An excellent example of a River Birch (Betula nigra) is found among the landscaping on the corner of the Enterprise Rental business. The Crossville Tree Board would like to call attention to this great species of Eastern trees. As the name entails, the River Birch loves wet, acidic soil and while it can stand periods of heavy rain and flooding, it doesn’t need those conditions to thrive. It can do well in dry soil as well. This species makes a nice landscape choice because it transplants easily at any age and grows into a medium tree of about 40’ to 70’. Since the birch’s wood has very little commercial value the people have evolved it into an extremely popular ornamental.
This tree of distinction on Hwy. 127 N shows how the River Birch can be used in a landscaping setting. Once the area’s leaf canopy diminishes in the fall, the distinctive, exfoliating bark really shows off and provides an interesting texture to winter scenery.
The bark is the best way to identify a River Birch. A younger tree is smooth, pinkish-white, sloughing off in curly papery sheets. When older the bark is shaggy and silver-gray. There is an old Native American legend that talks about why the Birch tree wears ‘slashes in its bark,’ which unravels a tale of why the bark is so curiously marked. It was common to tell tales for lessons learned and this one may have been told to help i.d. the tree because Native Americans boiled the sap as a sweetener similar to maple syrup, and consumed the inner bark as a survival food. The River Birch is an important dietary component to deer and other mammals as well as birds who eat the birch buds, catkins, and seeds.
To find a mature example of a River Birch one may travel to the Obed River Park. Within its boundaries is a tall River Birch growing along the water’s edge in a natural setting. To find this mature River Birch, park at the second shelter and find the Arboretum sign. This is where you can begin the section of paved trail closest to the river. The paved trail winds to the right and when the wooden bridge comes into view along your path look left (due NW). The mature tree is leaning across the river with its roots holding back the bank. A perfect example of how the River Birch can aid in stream bank erosion prevention is seen here. This one also shows how the young papery curls of the younger birch’s bark is no longer present and the mighty, grey shaggy bark is the replacement.
As you walk the path you will notice identification markers the Arboretum has placed to identify other nice examples of trees: Black Gum, Serviceberry, White Oak, are just a few.
Just a note: The Arboretum is within the Obed River Park’s boundary and was established by the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council in conjunction with many local partners to recognize Crossville’s nice living collection of woody plants for educational and scientific purposes.
Trees of Distinction are selected quarterly by the Crossville Tree Board, and articles about them are published in the Crossville Chronicle. This endeavor is to promote awareness of the importance of trees in our local environment.