Betula cordifolia (Heart-leaved Birch)

Plant Info
Also known as: Mountain White Birch
Family:Betulaceae (Birch)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade, sun; moist; rocky slopes, hardwood forest
Bloom season:May
Plant height:50 to 80 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: spike

[photo of catkins] Male and female flowers are borne separately on the same tree (monoecious), in clusters called catkins. Male catkins are in groups of 1 to 3 at tips of 1 year old twigs, pendulous in flower, 2 to 4¼ inches long, developing in fall as a slender spike of tightly appressed scales and opening up the following spring. Female catkins are erect and stout, cylindrical, 1/3 to ½ inch long from new, spur-like lateral twigs on the same branch as the males.

Leaves and bark: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[scan of leaves] Leaves are alternate and simple in 2s or 3s on short, spur-like lateral twigs, and singly on the new, elongating terminal branchlets. The blade is generally egg-shaped, 2 to 4¼ inches long, 1¼ to 2¾ inches wide, pointed at the tip, heart-shaped at the base, on a 1/3 to 1 inch, hairy stalk. Edges are double-toothed, the upper surface dark green and sparsely hairy becoming smooth, the lower surface lighter green with hairs on veins and with tufts in vein axils. Leaves have 9 to 12 pairs of lateral veins.

[photo of trunk] Twigs are brown to reddish brown with scattered lenticels (pores), new growth is hairy becoming mostly hairless and shiny the second year. Bark is thin and smooth, whitish with shades of gray and pink, older bark can peel into wide horizontal strips or often remaining smooth to the base of the trunk. Trunks can reach 30 inches diameter at breast height (dbh), though more commonly 16 to 20 inches.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

Female catkins become nodding to pendulous, cylindrical clusters, 1½ to 2¼ inches long, of winged nutlets each around 1/8 inch long, green drying to brown.


Heart-leaved Birch is not only similar to the more familiar Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), until recently many (if not most) references have treated it as a variety of that species (var. cordifolia). But not only are there genetic distinctions, B. cordifolia is much more restricted in range to the extreme northeastern Arrowhead region. And not only are its leaves the characteristic heart-shape that gives it its common name, these leaves typically have more veins (9 to 12 pairs vs. 9 or fewer). Its bark, while white and papery, is thinner and less chalky than Paper Birch, almost shiny, staying smooth to the base of the trunk, and the inner bark is often a dark, cherry pink compared to the lighter reddish tan of Paper Birch.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Cook and Lake counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: gary - Cook County
on: 2019-05-30 23:52:32

In a white cedar swamp near Schroeder, MN.

Posted by: Kriste Ericsson - Cambridge
on: 2019-07-13 22:40:32

My father and I saw what was probably heart leaved birch along the trail up Onion Mountain on the North Shore on October 16, 2017. I sent photos to my former office mate, Steve Mayer, who verified its likelihood. (I have several photos of the trunks, sans leaves at that time). Steve did some of the first genetic studies of the species while we were in grad school at UMD in the early 1980s (I have a copy of his thesis). One esoteric experience at that time was going with Steve and other students to shoot down catkins for DNA analysis in what is now Tettegouche State Park - a stately grove bathing us in a rosy glow - even mature trees of that species exhibit beautiful tightly curled bark with a reddish tint (only seen in the saplings of others species of birch).

Posted by: luciearl - lake shore
on: 2023-05-12 08:19:35

Grows on my hill. Has doubled in size in 23 yrs. It has finally grown tall enough, the tree top gets sun from the west (the roof of house had blocked). Catkins enjoyed. Chickadees love the seeds. A host to many butterflies.

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