Best white-bark species for forests

andrewiles

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I'd love to start a forest of white-barked trees. They are so striking. If you were starting with seeds or saplings and taking the slow clip-and-grow route, what species/cultivars would you choose and why?

I'm mostly interested in winter presentation with this project. In my case, cool maritime zone 8.

I really love the look of Himalayan Birch and it's quite common at nurseries in my area, but I see a lot of comments on this site saying it's not a great species for bonsai.
Silver birch is often suggested, though not quite as striking imho.
Aspen are deeply frowned upon.
Some gum trees have nice white bark, but probably not good for my climate.

@Maloghurst, I saw your comments in https://www.bonsainut.com/threads/himalayan-birch-should-i-buy.39174/post-660792. You might have an opinion here. I'm curious why paperbarks are not good species for bonsai.

Since I want to build a naturalistic forest I think occasional branch dieback is not a deal breaker.
 

Shibui

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All the birches I have tried to develop have the annoying habit of branches die and new shoots grow from the base of the branch so I guess that's what people see as making them unsuitable. i have seen one really nice silver birch bonsai at a show down this way.
Silver birch starts out with brown bark as a seedling. People cannot believe it is actually silver birch but around 5 years the bark becomes white. After 10-20 years the lower trunk gets rough brown bark so that bright silver color is only temporary. Not sure if other species have a similar cycle or not.

Trident maples make excellent groups. Bark is not as white as birch but can still be a nice lightish color.
 

andrewiles

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Thanks for the reply. From the interwebs it sounds like some of the birches keep their white bark much longer, but all seem prone to dieback.

Sadly, the other oft-mentioned white bark tree is the poplar, which is also a branch shedding, short lived pioneer species.

I think birch is less bad than aspen and poplar, and gum is out for me. I'll keep reading though as none of them are great.

Any ideas from others here?
 

ConorDash

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Beech?
I want to do a beech forest. Aside from an attractive tree, trunks, bark and leaves, they also go white after X years.

Mach has a shabby old Beech forest, knocking about the forum somewhere, might be worth a look ;).

(His forest looks awesome, Im just joking. Mach please dont hate me)
 

Colorado

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Dennis Vojtilla stated on the Mirai podcast that he does not have the oft-mentioned problems with birch. I’ve only been working with birch for one year, and a young specimen at that, but so far it has responded very well to bonsai techniques.

Time will tell, but I am highly skeptical that birch cannot be good bonsai.
 

sorce

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Dennis Vojtilla stated on the Mirai podcast that he does not have the oft-mentioned problems with birch. I’ve only been working with birch for one year, and a young specimen at that, but so far it has responded very well to bonsai techniques.

Time will tell, but I am highly skeptical that birch cannot be good bonsai.

If @vancehanna doesn't have a bitchin birch, his work still proves "not getting the memo" can turn these trees others hadn't the patience for, into incredible things.

I burnt the God Damn memo with the aphids last year!

Sorce
 
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Dennis Vojtilla stated on the Mirai podcast that he does not have the oft-mentioned problems with birch. I’ve only been working with birch for one year, and a young specimen at that, but so far it has responded very well to bonsai techniques.

Time will tell, but I am highly skeptical that birch cannot be good bonsai.
I agree, the native white birch grow super fast too.
 

andrewiles

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Thanks again for the feedback. Ended up picking up a small 2' beech and a larger 6' birch. The latter is one of the cheap betula utilis jacquemontiis we can get around here at the nurseries. I'll try softwood cuttings this summer.

The birches do sound finicky. In addition to branch loss the bronze birch borer is a chronic problem, at least around here. However, the biggest way to strengthen a tree against it, fortunately, is to ensure it has enough water. So for bonsai it's likely much easier to control than folks growing larger trees in the landscape. There are also some chemical treatments if it comes to that.

Anyways, can't hurt to try both trees. It'll be a few years before any white bark shows up, but I'll post some updates if I make progress.
 

penumbra

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I have never seen birches live very long in warmer climate. A planted 13 of them a bit over 30 years ago because a trip to Maine really intrigued me. I can't remember which birch but I know they were not European. They may have been Japanese. They were 2 inch caliper, about 12 feet tall. They were all dead within 15 years. All the arborists I talked to said they needed to be just a tad bit north to live longer. Just saying, that was my experience.
In my zone River Birch is an exception but not the white trunk you are looking for. They are very tough trees but I still see them subject to sudden branch death.
 

andrewiles

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Yeah, I think I'm on the edge of what's doable. My zone 8 climate is maritime, and they apparently suffer above 85 degrees F with high humidity. We don't get a lot of that here, so they may do ok.
 

penumbra

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Yeah, I think I'm on the edge of what's doable. My zone 8 climate is maritime, and they apparently suffer above 85 degrees F with high humidity. We don't get a lot of that here, so they may do ok.
Best luck. You may be ok. Not something you want to to in the South East. Humidity plus heat = xxx
 

Paradox

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I had a decent birch that was coming along nicely.
Then it decided to kill its apex and ruined the whole tree.
After 4 years of wasted time and bench space, it ended up on the dead pile.
 

JoeR

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Dennis Vojtilla stated on the Mirai podcast that he does not have the oft-mentioned problems with birch. I’ve only been working with birch for one year, and a young specimen at that, but so far it has responded very well to bonsai techniques.

Time will tell, but I am highly skeptical that birch cannot be good bonsai.
I spoke to the gentleman at the bonsai learning center in NC about birch. He has an awesome birch forest that he's working on. He said the cultivar (can't remember it but reach out and he will gladly tell you) was somewhat dwarf and had less of a tendency to drop branches. So genetics also play a role.

I think what it comes down to, is you can absolutely make a birch bonsai, but you have to understand and accept that it WILL drop branches. In a way, this can be an endearing quality in the sense the forest will always be changing.
 

Colorado

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Here’s a photo of the fall color last year on my Japanese White Birch, betula platyphylla.
1BC06329-57C5-4FD6-836D-9A11D05BCB18.jpeg

The spring growth is an electric lime green 😊

The juvenile bark is brown, as you can see, but the base on some of the trees in this small forest is already starting to turn white. I’d estimate these trees are no more than 3 years old.
 
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I have a betula pendula here in Bend, OR. Temps in the summer are over 90 and winters are around 0. The birch is not super well ramified, but it grows super healthy and I have not had any issues. Having heard of many issues over the years such branch loss, bugs, fungal issues, and weeping sap seems to be common. None of these issues has arisen for what it is worth. My only comment is I keep it in a deeper pot. With 3/1/1/1 : lava/pumice/sand/organics (potting soil).
 

andrewiles

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Yep. Moral of the story is: use them to make a forest and don't get attached to any one particular tree, branch, or overall design.
 

Starfox

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they were not European

This may be a point, Betula pendula is a European birch and it's range is quite vast across the continent.

It certainly exists in much warmer climates than have been mentioned. I mean there are a bunch not far from us that we used to drive past and I know they have been used as street trees in Australia in places where summer temps regularly hit well over 100 deg F and with little to no winter frosts. It's possible these are much more hardy. I just picked one up which came from Madrid who get much hotter than we do here.
 

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