Betula albosinensis Fascination

Product Details

Betula albosinensis Fascination is a species of Birch tree which is similar to Betula utilis Jacquemontii, but with a twist!

Like all Birch trees this one is notable for its attractive bark which is rich orange-red or orange-brown and peels off in sheets to reveal another layer of bark, each slightly lighter in colour than the last. When wet with rain, the young bark shimmers, looking almost iridescent.

Once the tree reaches over 30cm in girth, the bark is a most striking stark white, contrasting nicely with the darker branching of the trees canopy. Betula albosinensis Fascination is a refined clone of albosinensis, sporting dark green leaves, which are large for Birch and appear in April along with a showy display of yellow catkins which are up to 10cm in length.

Like all Birch this tree is a fairly consistent performer and will thrive in most soils. The branching structure is quite dense for a Birch tree, this and the fact the leaves are large and dark make this a useful species for screening.

Betula albosinensis Fascination is a medium sized, pyramidal shaped tree that has stiffly ascending branches and a uniform shape; it is perfect for any scheme where consistency and architectural structure is a key consideration.

The stunning dark branching and coloured bark makes a super feature during the gloomy winter months and should be given prominence against darker colours where the contrast will really accentuate the best features of this fantastic birch tree which is often over looked for the more popular and widely known Betula utilis Jacquemontii.

Mature height: 7-12m

Problem with the very top of our red birch dying and it may be moving down the tree…


Thank you for your question. It is difficult to diagnose this type of problem without close-up pictures of the dieback, but let me provide some possible causes. The close-up of the trunk does appear to show some damage, although I can’t really assess what caused this damage or whether it might be causing the dieback problem. You might want to contact a certified arborist out to look at the tree.

The extreme drop in temperature that occurred in one day back in November, combined with our late spring snow could have caused stress to the tree; event though many trees and shrubs appeared to recover during our wet spring, many of these same plants are showing dieback now with the hot weather. However, since the dieback is only affecting part of your tree, this might not be the cause of the problem.

The Bronze Birch Borer is a tunneling pest that is known to limb dieback and crown thinning in birch trees. Look for raised ridges on the bark of the tree.

Here is a link to information on borers in general, which can help you look for identifying signs of these insects on the tree trunk.

To manage this pest, it is important to prune the dying branches and make sure the tree roots are kept moist through mulching. Preventative insecticide applications may be required.

Common name: Red birch

Red Birch is a fast-growing landscape and resin yielding tree native to tropical America, its natural range extending from South Florida, through Central American and the Caribbean, to northern parts of South America.

It is typically a medium-sized tree 10 to 15 m (30 to 50 ft) tall, though may reach up to 30 m (100 ft) in natural forests, and on open sites develops a straight, uniform trunk supporting a rounded crown, sometimes with wildly curving and twisting branches. Its most distinguishing feature is its lustrous copper coloured bark which cracks and peels off in thin, near translucent flakes.

The leaves are compound, being made up of three to nine oval leaflets up to 7.5 cm (3 in) long, arranged in pairs along the length and with an extra leaflet at the tip. They fall off the tree in the dry season to conserve water, leaving the branches bare and exposed. The new leaflets emerge a glossy lime-green then gradually age to dark green. A stem-succulent tree, Red Birch also conserves water by storing it in its stems.

The flowers are small, pale green-white and bloom in loose clusters at around the same time as the new leaves start to develop, but are also know to bloom on and off throughout the year in irrigated landscapes. It is a dioecious species, with female and male flowers borne on separate trees.

The fruit are small, three-sided green berries that become pink-red when ripe, usually eight to ten months after flowering has ended.


In its native range, Red Birch is cultivated as a landscape tree for its lustrous, copper coloured bark and its suitability to coastal environments, having the ability to withstand dry conditions and salt spray blowing off the sea.

The wood is light-weight, in the 300 to 400 kg per cubic meter (19 to 25 lbs per cubic ft) range and has low natural resistance to decay and termites. This classes it as a non-durable softwood, limiting its suitability for building and construction work. It also has a high moisture content, but when properly dried can be cut up for firewood and for making charcoal, though it is not an ideal wood for either purpose. Its main uses range from making plywood, boxes and crates to making matchsticks and toothpicks.

The bark on wounding yields a resin that is left to ooze and harden on the trunk before it is collected and burnt as incense. The resin has also long been used in it unhardened form as a glue, particularly for mending broken crockery. Both the resin and crushed leaves have a strong odour of turpentine.


Grows naturally in seasonally dry, sub-humid to moderately humid tropical lowland forests, generally frost-free areas with annual lows of 17 to 25 °C, annual highs of 27 to 35 °C, annual rainfall of 500 to 3000 mm and a dry season of 3 to 8 months.

In Jamaica, Red Birch occurs at elevations from near sea level up to 700 m (2300 ft), where the average low of the warmest month does not fall below 19 °C.

How to grow

New plants can be started from seed or cuttings, which are quick to take root.

Performs well on free draining clay-loam, loam, sandy-loam, loamy-sand and limestone, or high calcareous, soils of a moderately acid to alkaline nature, generally with a pH of 5.5 to 8.5 and on sites with full to partial sun exposure. Being a stem succulent species, it has good tolerance to drought conditions and is moderately tolerant of salt spray.

Problem features

Birds and small animals eat the fruit and disperse the seed. However, there does not appear to be any records of escape and naturalisation anywhere, despite its cultivation as a ornamental.

Mature trees produce surface roots, which can be a problem if planted near to paved structures, such as paved walkways.

Reports of its wind tolerance are conflicting, varying from high to low breakage resistance, which may result from seasonal change in wood moisture content.

How to grow Chinese red birch

B. albosinensis var. septentrionalis was collected in 1908 by Ernest ‘Chinese’ Wilson on a trip to Western China sponsored by The Arnold Arboretum near Boston, Massachusetts. Wilson noticed the superior bark and used the name ”septentrionalis”, which describes the seven stars of The Plough. Botanically the name signifies a northern position.

Modern-day plant hunters Mark Flanagan (keeper of the gardens at Windsor Great Park) and Tony Kirkham (head of the Arboretum at Kew) have retraced Wilson’s footsteps over many expeditions. They have just written a superb book called Wilson’s China – A Century On (Kew Publishing, £28). This fascinating travelogue, with plants as an added extra, is undoubtedly the horticultural read of the year. Wilson’s black-and-white pictures are accurately matched with those taken 100 years on. Mark Flanagan selects B. albosinensis as one of his top 10 Wilson introductions from the thousands collected. However Mark, a former Plant Heritage Collection holder of birches, contends that septentrionalis is part of the natural gene pool, rather than a distinct variety. Whether it is or not, Ernest ‘Chinese’ Wilson had an eye for the first-rate and thought it a fine tree.

Planting tips

Plant your birch where winter sun strikes to create magic. Don’t tuck it away in a corner – make it a star. Always buy a tree stake and a tree tie with any new tree. Container-grown trees need to be planted at the same level as they are in the pot. Bare-root plants need a hole large enough to spread out the roots.

Prepare the site well. Dig a hole and break up the soil at the base to improve drainage and allow the roots to penetrate. Drive a stake into the bottom of the hole to help support the tree. You can add garden compost or use a slow-release fertiliser like bone meal as you backfill. Tread the soil down firmly (but gently) and water well. Put the tree tie on. Keep the area around the tree weed-free.

Good companions

Spring-flowering Cyclamen coum produces jaunty early flowers and rounded leaves. The brighter pinks show up better against birch bark. Plum-pink and almost-black hellebores flatter the pink-toned trunk of this birch. But place them at least 3ft away. Snowdrops, deep purple crocus and blue Scilla siberica contrast well with the cream-pink bark when planted among the dark strappy Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’.

Where to buy

  • Bluebell Arboretum and Nursery (01530 413 700)
  • Ornamental Trees (01568 708016)
  • Stone Lane Gardens (National Collection) (01647 231311)

Reader offer

Buy a Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis for £19.95, or two for £34.90; or a Betula utilis for £19.95, or two for £34.90, or buy one of each variety for £34.90. Send orders to Telegraph Garden Service, Dept. TL968, 14 Hadfield Street, Old Trafford, Manchester, M16 9FG. Cheques/postal orders payable to Telegraph Garden Service or call 0161 848 1106 for debit/credit card orders; or buy online: quoting ref. TL968. Trees 4ft-plus tall in three-litre pots. No delivery to Channel Islands or Rep of Ireland. Delivery within 28 days.

It’s reasonable to seek out trees for your garden that have multi-season interest, a specimen that will provide beauty throughout the year. There are, however, some with a single trait so special that that trait alone is enough to recommend it. And one tree that is definitely in that category is the Chinese red birch, also known as Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis.

Of the 60 species of birch found in temperate areas of the northern hemisphere, the most elegant birches come from China and the Himalayas. Most famous of these is the Himalayan birch, and the cultivar, ‘Snow Queen’, or Betula utilis ‘Jacquemontii’, whose immaculate white trunks are so admired by gardeners everywhere. But every bit as beautiful, though far less common, is the Chinese red birch and its amazingly pink-bloomed bark. The bark on mature trees have translucent golden edges over a darker cinnamon underside. And the limbs are a tapestry of grey and pink, cream and cinnamon-brown. It’s hard to believe such colorful bark coming from a single tree and the effect is especially dramatic when framed against the grey backdrop of winter. The leaves of Chinese red birch emerge an attractive emerald green in spring, ripening to an unusual sea-green in summer and finally turning a beautiful, pale yellow in autumn.

Like most birches, Chinese red birch produces a twiggy, light canopy that casts a dappled shade that is easy to garden under. But unlike other birches the Chinese red birch is drought tolerant and will grow on a variety of soils from dry sandy soils to heavy clays. But being a tree of woodland verge, it will not tolerate heavy shade.

Chinese red birch will make a conical, medium-sized tree ultimately reaching 70 feet tall when mature, or after about 40 years. This optimal height sounds imposing but birches are so light limbed and graceful that they are not likely to overwhelm their surroundings. Like most birches, Chinese red birch will not tolerate exposed positions in frigid winters nor take long, hot summers. But it will thrive in moderate climes, in full sun on moist soil with good drainage. Chinese red birch will do well in the moderate, middle regions of the US. It should also do well in the UK as well as Lower Canada. As always, a tree like Chinese red birch will not likely be found in the big discount nurseries but more likely in the select, tree nurseries.

Landscape Plants

  • Deciduous tree, 40-60(80) ft , rounded habit. Leaves alternate, simple, ovate to ovate-oblong, 5-7.5 cm long, about 3 cm wide, margin doubly serrate or occasionally even slightly lobed, base rounded or subcordate, apex acuminate, dark green above, paler and glandular below, 10-14 vein pairs; petiole 7-20 mm long; foliage yellow in fall. Bark rich orange-red or orange-brown, peels off in very thin sheets, under layer coated with a white bloom.
  • Sun to part shade, best in moist well drained soil.
  • Hardy to USDA Zone 5 Native to central and western China.
  • albo-sinensis: white, of China
  • The botanical variety, Betula albo-sinensis var. septentrionalis (Northern Chinese Red Birch), is normally taller than the species, to 30 m, has orange-brown to yellow-orange or orange-gray bark persisting on the trunk, young shoots are glandular, and leaves obovate to oblong-ovate, 5-9 cm long, the underside has silky pubescence on veins and axillary pubescence (Krüssmann, 1976). This variety was given a “Great Plant Picks” designation for Northwest Gardens ( Some indicate that var. septentrionalis is rarely encountered in the (U.S.?) nursery trade (Dosmann, Amer. Nur. Apr. 15, 2002), whereas Jacobson (1996) states that the species is “scarcely ever grown” and that var. septentrionalis is uncommon and sold mostly by Canadian nurseries. Furthermore, he says that trees offered under name of B. albo-sinensis may be intermediate with “typical B. albo-sinensis” and with hybrids of B. pendula. Dirr (1998) indicates that Chinese Paper Birch are encountered infrequently in the U.S. but are common in European gardens. This latter point is also suggested by the number of selections listed by Royal Horticulture Society, for example:
    • Betula albosinensis ‘Bowling Green’, ‘China Ruby’, ‘Chinese Garden’, ‘K. Ashburner’, ‘Kansu’, ‘Ness’ (‘Fascination’ and ‘Hergest” are listed by others).
    • Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis: ‘Purdom’
  • Silverton, Oregon: The Oregon Garden.

(Chinese Red Birch)

Betula albosinensis Fascination is a beautiful tree which makes a great alternative to the commonly used Betula Jacquemontii.

With a mature height of 10-12m, this medium sized tree has an upright, uniform habit and for a Birch is quite dense in the foliage which makes it a great selection if being used for screening.

The most attractive feature is the bark which is white with dark branches and peels, like a typical Betula, to reveal a creamy cinnamon coloured underside. In autumn and winter months, with low sunlight reflecting off it, this really is a stunning characteristic.

The foliage of Betula Fascination is dark green and triangular in shape with a serrated margin. In autumn it turns golden yellow. In spring, at the same time as the foliage emerges, the catkins also appear. Yellow in colour, they hang in small groups from the branches.

Betula albosinensis is tolerant of a wide range of conditions and soil types though does not like to be waterlogged. In our opinion, it should be planted in a sunny, prominent position to really make the most of its beauty!

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