With its white, peeling bark and graceful form, the paper birch is one of the most striking additions to the garden. Unfortunately, in landscape settings it is often short-lived and prone to problems. The bronze birch borer preys on trees that are weakened by environmental conditions, causing dieback starting in the crown of the tree and often leading to its death.
Fortunately for gardeners, Dale Herman, research horticulturist at North Dakota State University, has spent years working to develop woody plants that are hardy in the Northern Plains. One of his recent releases is Betula papyrifera 'Varden', known in the nursery trade as the Prairie Dream Paper Birch. Hardy to Zone 3, this new cultivar is more tolerant of stresses such as dry soil, winter cold and variable soil pH and has shown a high resistance to the bronze birch borer. With its distinctive bark and dark green leaves that change to golden yellow in the fall, Prairie Dream can add a trouble-free grace note to many gardens. Look for it at your local nursery or garden center; it is also available from mail-order sources.
For more information on Prairie Dream Paper Birch, go to: NDSU Dept. of Plant Sciences.