Types of Birch Trees

European Birches
The species includes, in Europe, the Downy birch Betula pubescens, Silver birch Betula pendula, and Common alder Alnus glutinosa. The American birches are described below.

Silver Birch
When most Europeans think of the birch, this graceful slender tree, native to most of Europe and south-west Asia, is the tree they think of. It grows well on light peaty sandy soils, reaching a height of 30m.
The crown of the silver birch is narrow and conical with upswept branches, becoming rounded, with long hanging branchlets and a deeply fluted trunk. The bark is shiny purplish-brown in young trees, becoming pinkish-white and finally white with black diamond-shaped markings. It is this colour that gives it its name. The bark is smooth and peeling above, black and knobbly at the base. Shoots appear as dark purple-brown, with raised white warts.

The silver birch's leaves are emerald green and triangular with rounded bases and double-toothed margins from 3 to 7cm long. The male flowers come in clusters of 2 to 4 drooping yellow catkins, 3cm long, at the tips of the shoots; young catkins are pale purple-brown and visible all winter. Female flowers form clusters of about 6 catkins on branched stalks below the males. At first they are erect, green and club shaped and about 1 to 112cm long. They grow to 2 to 3cm long, become brown, hang down and release small winged fruits.
The silver birch's hard, strong, pale-brown wood is used for small turned articles and, especially in the Nordic countries, for plywood, flooring and skis. The twigs are used for brooms and brushes and the bark for roofing, tanning, etc. Birch leaves can be used as natural dies to produce yellow.
The alders are also part of the birch family.

American Birches
Of the several tree species, these are the important ones in the United States. First is the yellow birch, B. alleghaniensis, which is the most valuable American birch in number, size, and usefulness. Then there is the sweet birch, B. lenta, is also known as the black, or cherry, birch. In the south there is the River birch, B. nigra, which is a native of river banks, lake shores, and swampy areas throughout the eastern United States. Finally the paper, or white, birch, B. papyrifera, is a tree of cold climates. It is primarily a Canadian species and is transcontinental in range.

Birch trees are characterized by a smooth bark that often peels off in thin, papery layers and becomes thick, deeply furrowed, and scaly. Numerous minute male and female flowers are borne each spring on different hanging catkins of the same tree (birches are monoecious). The solitary erect fruits are conelike and are composed of many minute two-winged nutlets that mature in summer and are shed in fall and early winter.
The Members of this species reach heights of 30 m (100 ft) and diameters of 1.2 m (4 ft), and many live to be more than 300 years old. The root system is typically shallow.

The paper birch is interesting in that its bark was used by the Indians for utensils, canoes, and wigwam covers. It is also readily flammable and good for starting fires.
Several species of birches form vast forests in far north countries. Dwarfed species grow on mountain slopes or near the timberline.


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