Tundra Dwarf Birch

Betula glandulosa Michx.

Betula glandulosa
Julia Goren

Dicotyledoneae (Dicots)
Betulaceae (Birch Family)
State Protection
Listed as Endangered by New York State: in imminent danger of extirpation in New York. For animals, taking, importation, transportation, or possession is prohibited, except under license or permit. For plants, removal or damage without the consent of the landowner is prohibited.
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
Critically Imperiled in New York - Especially vulnerable to disappearing from New York due to extreme rarity or other factors; typically 5 or fewer populations or locations in New York, very few individuals, very restricted range, very few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or very steep declines.
Global Conservation Status Rank
Secure globally - Common in the world; widespread and abundant (but may be rare in some parts of its range).


Did you know?

The scientific epithet glandulosa is in reference to the very dense gland-like structures that occur on the twigs of this species. Unfortunately, in New York, tundra dwarf birch has fewer and less glands on its twigs than in the rest of its range (Furlow and Mitchell 1990). This species has the smallest leaves of any birch in New York.

State Ranking Justification

There are only three known populations, all restricted to the highest summits of the Adirondacks. One population has fewer than than 50 individuals, and two of the populations are only about one mile apart.

Short-term Trends

Short-term trends are unknown except that to at least some degree trampling by hiker traffic is threatening and perhaps has already damaged at least part of some populations.

Long-term Trends

No populations are believed to have been extirpated in the past 100 or so years. At least one population appears to be robust and vigorous. There are no other data indicating the long-term trends for this species in New York.

Conservation and Management


Trampling by hiker traffic is a threat to at least part of the population at two of the three populations present in New York State.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

The Summit Steward program which works to inform hikers of the fragile nature of alpine plants is a critical program which is helping to reduce trampling of alpine vegetation. This program and other efforts designed to reduce trampling of alpine meadows are needed.

Research Needs

Continued regular inventories which include an assessment of the size of the populations are needed. A clear assessment should also be determined for the impact of trampling by hiker traffic.



In New York, the species is restricted to alpine meadows and openings in alpine krummholz (New York Natural Heritage Program 2007). Throughout the range of the species it occurs in arctic and alpine tundra, acidic rocky slopes and barrens, muskegs, peat bogs, stream banks, and open subalpine summits (Furlow 1997). In New York, it grows only on crests and summits (Furlow 1990). Throughout the range of the species it occurs in bogs and wet alpine slopes and summits (Gleason and Cronquist 1991). In arctic North America it occurs on acidic rocky barrens, crests, and summits. Also in more southern areas such as the Adirondacks it grows in alpine areas (Fernald 1970).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Alpine krummholz (guide)
    A dwarf woodland dominated by balsam fir that occurs at or near the summits of the high peaks of the Adirondacks.
  • Open alpine community (guide)
    An open community consisting of a mosaic of sedge/dwarf shrub meadows, dwarf heath shrublands, small boggy depressions, and exposed bedrock covered with lichens and mosses. The open alpine community occurs above timberline (about 4,900 ft or 1,620 m) on the higher mountain summits and exposed ledges of the Adirondacks. The flora includes arctic-alpine species that are restricted (in New York) to these areas, as well as boreal species that occur in forests and bogs at lower elevations. The soils are thin and organic, primarily composed of peat derived from peat mosses (Sphagnum spp.) or black muck. The soils are often saturated because they can be recharged by atmospheric moisture.

Associated Species

  • Agrostis mertensii (northern bent)
  • Anthoxanthum monticola ssp. Monticola
  • Carex bigelowii
  • Carex scirpoidea ssp. scirpoidea (Canadian single-spike sedge)
  • Deschampsia flexuosa
  • Diapensia lapponica var. lapponica
  • Empetrum nigrum ssp. hermaphroditum
  • Huperzia appressa (mountain firmoss)
  • Prenanthes boottii
  • Prenanthes nana
  • Salix uva-ursi (bearberry willow)
  • Solidago leiocarpa (Cutler's alpine goldenrod)
  • Trichophorum cespitosum ssp. Cespitosum
  • Vaccinium boreale (northern lowbush blueberry)


New York State Distribution

This species is only known from three alpine summits in the high peaks region of the Adirondacks all of which are less than five air miles from each other.

Global Distribution

This species grows throughtout the subarctic regions of North America and south in alpine habitats. It occurs from Alaska east to Greenland and Newfoundland south in the mountains to California, Utah and Colorado, and in the east to northern New York and northern New England (Furlow 1997).

Identification Comments

General Description

In New York, Tundra dwarf birch is often a very low shrub growing in dense thickets, but very rarely it can get grow up to 6 or occasionally 10 feet. The branches are often twisted together and the twigs have large resinous glands, although in the western part of this species range the twigs are more densely glandular. The leaves are leathery, up to 1/2 or rarely 1 and 1/4 inches long, and have teeth along the edges. The flowers are small and inconspicuous but grow in dense clusters known as catkins. Separate catkins are composed entirely of female or male flowers.

Identifying Characteristics

Betula glandulosa has twigs with large conspicuous warty glands although in New York these can be somewhat smaller and less dense. The alternately arranged leaves are obovate to suborbicular, singly dentate, have a rounded apex, a mostly glabrous adaxial surface, a glabrous to sparsely pubescent (more densely pubescent on veins and in leaf axils) and glandular abaxial surface, and are (0.5-)1-2(-3) cm long. The scales of the fruiting aments have upturned lateral lobe apices (Furlow and Mitchell 1990).

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

This species is easy to identify vegetatively although it can sometimes approach B. pumila except that the habitats where they grow are quite different and the two are not found together at least in New York. Therefore, vegetative characteristics and a description of the habitat are all that is needed for identification although fruiting characteristics are useful.

Similar Species

Betula pumila can be somewhat similar although in New York it primarily grows in bogs and fens unlike the exposed alpine summits where B. glandulosa occurs. Morphologically, B. pumila has leaves (2-)3-4(-6) cm long, twigs with a few scattered glands, leaf apices acute to rounded, abaxial leaf surfaces glabrous to tomentose, and lateral lobes of fruiting scales widely divergent while B. glandulosa has leaves (0.5-)1-2(-3) cm long, twigs with more resinous glands, leaf apices rounded, abaxial leaf surfaces mostly glabrous, and lateral lobes of fruiting scales upturned and parallel.

Betula glandulosa is distinguished from all other birches by its singly toothed leaves. It can also distinguished from B. minor which it can grow with by its rounded rather than acuminate leaf apices and smaller overall size.

Best Time to See

This species can be surveyed for when the leaves are mature in June although it is always helpful to have fruits, which begin to be produced in late June. Therefore the best time to survey for this species is from late June through September although starting to survey for this species in early June is very acceptable.

  • Vegetative
  • Flowering
  • Fruiting

The time of year you would expect to find Tundra Dwarf Birch vegetative, flowering, and fruiting in New York.

Tundra Dwarf Birch Images


Tundra Dwarf Birch
Betula glandulosa Michx.

  • Kingdom Plantae
    • Phylum Anthophyta
      • Class Dicotyledoneae (Dicots)
        • Order Fagales
          • Family Betulaceae (Birch Family)

Additional Common Names

  • Alpine Birch
  • Arctic Birch
  • Dwarf Birch
  • Resin Birch


  • Betula littelliana Tuckerman
  • Betula nana L. [Mitchell and Tucker (1997) lump B. glandulosa under B. nana.]

Comments on the Classification

Following Furlow (1997), Betula glandulosa is considered distinct from B. pumila and B. nana (only the former also occurs in New York). This species is known to hybridize with B. pumila, producing plants known as B. x sargentii Dugle but this hybrid is not known to occur in New York probably because the two species grow in different habitats and locations that are isolated from each other (Furlow and Mitchell 1990).

Additional Resources

Best Identification Reference

Furlow, J.J. and R.S. Mitchell. 1990. Betulaceae through Cactaceae of New York. New York State Museum Bulletin No. 476. The State Education Department, Albany, NY. 93pp+ vi

Other References

Fernald, M.L. 1950. Gray's manual of botany. 8th edition. D. Van Nostrand, New York. 1632 pp.

Flora of North America Editorial Committee. 1997. Flora of North America, North of Mexico. Volume 3. Magnoliophyta: Magnoliidae and Hamamelidae.

Furlow, J. 1997. Betulaceae Gray. Pages 507-538 in Flora of North America Editorial Committee (Editors), Flora of North America, North of Mexico, Volume 3, Magnoliophyta: Magnoliidae and Hamamelidae. Oxford University Press, New York, NY, USA. 590pp + xxiii.

Gleason, Henry A. 1952. The New Britton and Brown Illustrated Flora of the Northeastern United States and Canada.

Gleason, Henry A. and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York. 910 pp.

Holmgren, Noel. 1998. The Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual. Illustrations of the Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Mitchell, Richard S. and Gordon C. Tucker. 1997. Revised Checklist of New York State Plants. Contributions to a Flora of New York State. Checklist IV. Bulletin No. 490. New York State Museum. Albany, NY. 400 pp.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2010. Biotics database. New York Natural Heritage Program. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

Reschke, Carol. 1990. Ecological communities of New York State. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Latham, NY. 96 pp. plus xi.

Voss, E.G. 1985. Michigan Flora. Part II. Dicots (Saururaceae - Cornaceae). Cranbrook Institute of Science and University of Michigan Herbarium. Ann Arbor, Michigan. 724 pp.

Weldy, T. and D. Werier. 2010. New York flora atlas. [S.M. Landry, K.N. Campbell, and L.D. Mabe (original application development), Florida Center for Community Design and Research http://www.fccdr.usf.edu/. University of South Florida http://www.usf.edu/]. New York Flora Association http://newyork.plantatlas.usf.edu/, Albany, New York


About This Guide

Information for this guide was last updated on: January 31, 2008

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Betula glandulosa. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/tundra-dwarf-birch/. Accessed June 23, 2024.