Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Mountain Paper Birch - Betula cordifolia   Regel
Members of Betulaceae:
Members of Betula with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Family Betulaceae
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AuthorRegel
DistributionKnown to have native populations only in the Black Mountains, in Yancey County. Though there are several other reports/counties, these are likely in error or are non-natural occurrences.

This is a Far Northern species that ranges from eastern Canada south to NY and WI, but farther southward essentially only in the higher Appalachians to western VA, and then disjunct over 150 miles to western NC.
AbundanceExtremely local in the state, but at least within Mount Mitchell State Park it is uncommon and may take a while to find unless you know exactly where to look. It is a State Special Concern species.
HabitatIn NC, it is limited to sites mainly over 6000 feet, if not slightly lower, and grows in spruce-fir forests, more so with only Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri). Weakley (2018) mentions that the trees grow on talus areas (loose gravel or small rocks) and thus not in deep soil.
See also Habitat Account for Spruce-Fir Forests
PhenologyFlowers from May to about July, and fruits from July to September.
IdentificationThis is a medium-sized deciduous tree, reaching about 50-60 feet tall. Its leaves are a bit different from other birch species in the mountains (i.e., B. alleghaniensis and B. lenta) in that the base is strongly cordate, as opposed to broadly rounded. In addition to the leaf bases, this species has white to very pale pearly gray bark that is strongly peeling. The inner bark is a striking salmon or "rufous" color, at times visible where the outer bark has peeled away (N. Murdock, pers. comm.). When searching for this species in the state park or elsewhere in the Black Mountains, or perhaps looking for a new population in another range, the bark color will be the main focus, and then the leaf bases need to be checked to confirm the identification. (B. alleghaniensis grows in the same areas, and its bark is similar but with a pale golden color and is normally not quite as curled.)
Taxonomic CommentsUntil fairly recently, most references listed this taxon as a variety of the very widespread B. papyrifera -- as B. papyrifera var. cordifolia. Even now, there is considerable controversy whether this taxon should be split out as a good species.

Other Common Name(s)Heartleaf Paper Birch (or Heart-leaved Paper Birch), Heartleaf Birch, Mountain White Birch, Eastern Paper Birch
State RankS1
Global RankG5T5 [G5]
State StatusSC-V
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B.A. Sorriesame data. Photo_non_NCPhoto_non_NC
B.A. SorriePhoto taken 1987 at Twin Peaks, Oxford County, ME. Photo_non_NCPhoto_non_NC
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