University of Tennessee
Forest Resources AgResearch and Education Center
Our Center Home Page Arboretum Home Page

Sweet Birch (Betula lenta)

Sweer Birch Sweet Birch (also known as Black Birch or Cherry Birch) is found from Northern New England down the Appalachians to Alabama and Georgia and west to Ohio. In Tennessee, it is found primarily in the mountains and the Valley and Ridge physiographic province. Scattered individuals occur in the Arboretum's deciduous forests - two good examples can be seen at the junction of the Backwoods Trail and the North Forest Loop Road.

Sweet birch gets its common name from the wintergreen smell of its crushed leaves and twigs. Sweet Birch bark was a major source of wintergreen oil (methyl salicylate), which has a number of pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and industrial applications (flavors and fragrances) - it is now produced synthetically for commercial use. Betula lenta is also known as Black Birch because when exposed to air, the wood darkens and was used in the past as an inexpensive substitute for mahogany. The wood is used for a variety of purposes such as face veneer, plywood, cabinetry, hardwood flooring, and pulp. The sap can be fermented to make birch bark beer and vinegar. The sap and decoctions of bark have also been used for a variety of medicinal purposes to treat such conditions as colds, dysentery, and stomach ailments. The twigs purportedly make "the best wilderness toothbrushes." Sweet Birch grows to heights of 50 to 60 ft.

Sweet Birch Leaves Sweet Birch Bark It has alternate, dark green leaves, 2.5 to 6 in. long, and 1.5 to 3 in. wide. The leaves are fine toothed and have an elongated arrowhead shape. The tight dark silver-gray to black bark has horizontal rows of raised reddish brown lines (lenticels). The Virginia Roundleaf Birch found in the Wildflower Garden is considered by some botanists to be a variety of Sweet Birch.

Return to Tree List

University of Tennessee - Forest Resources AgResearch and Education Center
901 South Illinois Avenue, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37830 · Telephone: 865-483-3571 · Email: UTforest@utk.edu