Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Sweet Birch - Betula lenta   L.
Members of Betulaceae:
Members of Betula with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Fagales » Family Betulaceae
DistributionThroughout the Mountains and the far western Piedmont, in the foothills. Occurs east to Stokes and Cleveland counties. There are no isolated county records farther to the east.

This species occurs from eastern Canada south through NJ and PA, and then primarily in the Appalachians and upper Piedmont south to northern GA and northern AL.
AbundanceFrequent to common in the Mountains, at lower to middle elevations (perhaps up to about 4500 feet). Fairly common in cool or sheltered sites in the foothills, but is scarce on more exposed or sunnier foothill sites. It does not typically occur in extensive stands, but it is widespread and is usually seen in a typical forest walk in appropriate habitat.
HabitatThis is a characteristic species of rich forests, such as cove forests, mixed hemlock-hardwood forests, and other forests on cool slopes and sheltered areas. It does occur in mesic forests, but is not overly numerous in oak-hickory forests.
PhenologyFlowers in March and April, and fruits in June and July.
IdentificationThis is a medium-sized deciduous tree, to about 50-60 feet tall. It has ovate to elliptic leaves growing to about 3 inches long, with strongly serrated margins. A broken twig has a strong fragrance of wintergreen. The species looks very similar to Yellow Birch (B. alleghaniensis) except that Sweet Birch has dark brown to slate-gray bark that only occasionally peels, or peels into small sheets; Yellow Birch has pale gold bark that is more strongly peeling. Both may occur together in middle elevations, such as around 4000-4500 feet, and thus care must be taken to separate these two common species.
Taxonomic CommentsGenerally none. However, the extremely rare Virginia Roundleaf Birch (B. uber) is sometimes questioned to be a valid species. Those doubters therefore include it within B. lenta as B. lenta var. uber. By doing that, the main Sweet Birch must then be renamed as B. lenta var. lenta.

Other Common Name(s)This species is often called Cherry Birch. Black Birch is a less used name.
State RankS5
Global RankG5
State Status
US Status
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B.A. SorrieMontane north GA, Apr 2018. Photo_non_NCPhoto_non_NC
B.A. SorrieIona Island, NY, 1980s.
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