Without a doubt the most beautiful trees in the winter landscape are the white-barked birches. Backlit by the late afternoon sun, standing sentinel-like against the cold, birch will grab your attention like no other tree for the next few months. Sadly we are losing birch here in the Okanagan Valley, mainly because of the ravages of the Bronze Birch Borer insect. Betula pendula, the European Weeping Birch and Betula jacquemonti, the Himalayan Birch seem unable to resist the borer. Betula nigra, the River Birch, is more resistant as is Betula platphylla, the native Paper Birch. A new introduction of the Paper Birch, called ‘Dakota Pinnacle’ has the potential, I believe, to help the birch regain its status.
Betula platyphylla ‘Dakota Pinnacle’ was developed at North Dakota State University, so we know winter hardiness is not a problem. One of its many qualities is its tight, candle-like growth habit. It matures at about nine metres tall, but only grows two to two and half metres wide, making it a great choice for a smaller garden, or as a screen in larger landscapes. The bark will mature to a creamy white after several years, and fall colour is golden yellow. Most birch need regular water; ‘Dakota Pinnacle’ is reported to be quite drought tolerant once it’s established. It’s also tolerant of our alkaline soils but prefers a loose, gravelly mix as opposed to a heavy clay soil.
Deciduous trees which have that “rocket ship” growth habit are rare. ‘Dakota Pinnacle’ stands out in the landscape because of its narrow, columnar look. Planted at the end of the garden it will naturally draw your eye up and over the landscape. I’d love to see these planted in a row along a long driveway, or used as a windbreak in a pasture. If all the accounts of this tree are indeed true we could be enjoying the regal stature of the birch again in the valley.

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