Betula nigra ‘Cully’ HERITAGE
Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

Contributed by Katherine Wagner-Reiss

Betula nigra ‘Cully’ HERITAGE  is a wonderful example of how the combination of serendipity and hard scientific investigation brings us important cultivars. Betula is the Latin word for birch. Nigra means black, and the bark of the straight species Betula nigra is almost black when mature. ‘Cully’ is the surname of the nurseryman who noticed a spectacular tree in the lawn of a St. Louis, MO home. While it looked somewhat like a Betula nigra, the bark was so white and papery that Cully thought that it might be a hybrid between Betula nigra (black birch) and Betula papyrifera (white paper birch). Extensive testing over a period of ten years revealed that it was not a hybrid, but a special Betula nigra, genetically endowed with ornamental peeling bark in hues of salmon, cream, and white; extreme hardiness; resistance to bronze birch borers; and the ability to grow in either waterlogged or dry soils.

In 1979, Earl Cully obtained a plant patent on this marketable ornamental tree and in the early 1980s he founded HERITAGE

Trees, Inc., thus explaining the trade name HERITAGE . If it seems somewhat odd to see a plant with trademark protection, consider that horticulture has a business component, too, which can help support additional and much needed plant research.

The common names for Betula nigra are black birch, red birch, river birch, and water birch. “Black’” and “red” refer to colors seen in the bark. “River” and “water” reveal that the native habitat for this tree is wet ground.

According to the Morris Arboretum Catalogue of Plants, the Arboretum has 25 of the straight species Betula nigra, 12 of the cultivar Betula nigra ‘Cully’ and one of the cultivar ‘BMNTF’ Dura Heat®. Until the leaves burst out this spring, enjoy beautiful birch bark. The locations of all of the birches at Morris Arboretum are mapped on Collection Connection.