of Birch Trees
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.
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
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 11û2cm 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.
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
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
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
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.
Associations | Uses of Birch
| Types of Birch Trees | Lore