Betula pumila (Bog Birch)

Plant Info
Also known as: Dwarf Birch
Family:Betulaceae (Birch)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:sun; open bogs, fens, peatlands, swamps
Bloom season:April - May
Plant height:4 to 12 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: OBL MW: OBL NCNE: OBL
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 plant (monoecious), in clusters called catkins. Male catkins are single from short spur-like lateral shoots on 1 year old twigs, ascending to pendent in flower, ¾ to 1 inch long, developing in fall as a slender spike of tightly appressed scales and opening up the following spring. Female catkins are erect or ascending, cylindrical, 1/3 to ¾ inch long from new, spur-like lateral branches on the same branch as the males.

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

[photo of leaves] Leaves are alternate and simple in mostly 2s or occasionally 3s on short, spur-like lateral twigs, and singly on the new, elongating terminal branches. The blade is rounded-fan shaped, widest above the middle, ¾ to 1½ inch long, ½ to 1 inch wide, the tip broadly rounded, the base wedge-shaped or a short, rounded taper to the short stalk. Edges have course rounded or sharp teeth except near the base and are sometimes double-toothed. The upper surface is dark green, usually smooth or with fleeting scattered hairs, often gland-dotted; the lower surface similar but lighter green.

[photo of stem] Twigs are brown to reddish brown or even deep maroon, with scattered lenticels (pores), new growth is hairy but becoming hairless, smooth the second year. Older bark is gray to reddish brown with pale lenticels, not shedding or papery. Stems are profusely multiple from the base, larger ones up to 1¼ inch diameter.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of developing fruit] Female catkins become erect, stout, egg-shaped to short-cylindric clusters, 1/3 to 1 inch long, of winged nutlets each 1/8 to ¼ inch long, green drying to brown.


As its name would indicate, Bog Birch typically inhabits wetland environments, though true acidic sphagnum bogs will not support its growth. It can also be found in low areas of sand dune habitats where there is adequate soil moisture close to the surface. It is typically a 6 to 8 foot, densely multi-stemmed shrub but can be highly variable in leaf characters and height. While a few varieties have been proposed based on various characteristics, they are not all universally accepted and not currently recognized in Minnesota. The two more widely accepted vars are: var. glandulifera with a more northern distribution has leaves glandular and generally less hairy (the var. in Minnesota), and var. pumila with a more eastern and southern distribution has hairier leaves without glands. Confusing all this is its ability to freely hybridize with tree form species; B. x purpusii (a cross with B. alleghaniensis) and B. x sandbergii (a cross with B. papyrifera), both of which have been collected in Minnesota. But even these recognized hybrids are known to further cross and backcross producing potentially a myriad of intermediate characteristcs. Generally anything over 12 feet and is more tree than shrub form is likely a hybrid.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Aitkin, Anoka, Kittson and Lake counties.


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

Posted by: John Schifsky - Ford Twp. Kanabec county
on: 2022-11-15 04:55:59

These are exceptionally large stands. Many in the 10 to 15 foot range. Substantial birch growth in the area. Must be hybridized?

Posted by: gary - St. Louis County
on: 2023-02-13 16:06:18

Common in fens near Zim, MN with occasional plants of the hybrid B. x sandbergii. Saw larvae of the moths Cingilia catenaria and Hyphantria cunea feeding on the leaves of Betula pumila.

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