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Virginia round-leaf birch

Virginia round leaf birch (Betula uber), a moderate sized tree with aromatic bark and a compact crown, was discovered in a single creek drainage in 1918 [1]. It was later thought extinct until the rediscovery of 41 trees along the banks of Cressy Creek in 1975 [1]. All 41 trees occurred within a 100 meter-wide band of highly disturbed second-growth forest along a one km stretch of the Cressy Creek floodplain [1]. Both public and private land was included in this strip and the population was entirely surrounded by agricultural land [1]. Extensive searches of the surrounding area did not uncover additional populations and by 1977, the one known population had declined to 26 trees, prompting the creation of the “Betula Uber Protection, Management and Research Coordinating Committee” [2]. Through their efforts, in 1978 the Virginia round leaf birch became the first tree species to gain protection under the endangered species act [2]. 

In 1981, two areas were cleared of vegetation near potential seed sources in an effort to enhance natural regeneration [1]. Eighty-one round-leaf birch seedlings were found in one cleared area, however, all of the seedlings that remained at the end of the second growing season were gone (probably a result of vandalism) by 1986 [1]. 

Seeds of Virginia round leaf birch were also gathered, germinated under greenhouse conditions, and held in cultivation for 2-3 growing seasons [1]. Starting in 1984 these seedlings were transplanted to 20 clearings that had been created in wooded areas of the Cressy Creek Watershed [1].  Five populations per year were established over a 4-year period [1].  Each newly-established population consisted of 96 individuals [1].  Measures such as fencing trees from browsers and removing competing vegetation were taken to promote the establishment of these populations [1]. The U.S. National Arboretum also produced 50 plants that were distributed to arboreta, botanical gardens, and nurseries [1].

Although the single wild population of Virginia round leaf birch has continued to decline (in 2003 only 8 trees remained) [2], as of 1994, 19 of the 20 introduced populations were thought to be self sufficient and totaled 1,400 trees, most of which occur on the Jefferson National Forest. This lead to the 1994 rule to downlist the round leaf birch to threatened [1].  Recovery for the Virginia round-leaf birch, however, hinges on the successful natural reproduction and survival of populations in the wild [2]. In 1994, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service projected that recovery could be achieved by 2010 [1]. In 2006 it projected a delisting date of 2015.

[1] USFWS. 1994. Final rule: Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Reclassification of the Virginia Round-Leaf Birch (Betula Uber) From
Endangered to Threatened. Federal Register 59 FR 59173.
[2] USFWS. 2005. Virginia round leaf birch (Betula Uber). Northeast Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Hadley, MA. Accessed at http://www.fws.gov/northeast/pdf/vabirch.pdf on 11/23/05.

Banner photo © Phillip Colla