The variably colored -- bronze to yellow-brown to silvery-gray to tan -- exfoliating bark of Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis) is a reliable field mark that allows most individuals to be identified with ease. Exceptions include younger trees who have darker bark that doesn't peel readily, and older trees who may lose their peeling bark and become scaly.
Here are a few additional field marks to clinch the identification of Yellow Birch in the white season:
- twigs have alternating buds, and are slender and sparsely hairy (look closely at new growth for hairs; the twigs of Cherry Birch are hairless)
- mature trees have male flower catkins in small clusters at the tips of some twigs
- chewed twigs taste of wintergreen (like Cherry Birch, and similar to the leaves of Eastern Spicy-wintergreen)
Yellow Birch lives in forests throughout New England. I often find this species growing in moist soils, near rivers and streams. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)