Paper birch is a pioneer species and is first in after a forest disturbance. It needs high nutrient soils and a lot of sunlight. The bark is highly weather-resistant. Often, the wood of a downed paper birch will rot away leaving the hollow bark intact. This easily recognized and peeling birch bark is a winter staple food for moose even though the nutritional quality is poor. Still, the bark is important to wintering moose because of its sheer abundance.
While river birch's native habitat is wet ground, it will grow on higher land, and its bark is quite distinctive, making it a favored ornamental tree for landscape use. A number of cultivars have very attractive bark and selected for garden planting, including 'Heritage' and 'Dura Heat.' Native Americans used the wild birch's boiled sap as a sweetener similar to maple syrup, and the inner bark as a survival food. It is usually too contorted and knotty to be of value as a timber tree.
The name "yellow birch" reflects the color of the tree's distinctive bark. Betula alleghaniensis is the provincial tree of Québec, where it is commonly called merisier, a name which in France is used for the wild cherry. Yellow birch thrives in moist woodlands and often seen on root stilts that have developed from seedlings that have grown on and over rotting stumps.