Birch trees are useful to people in many ways. Read on to know why the birches are so much in demand in the commercial market today.
Did You Know?
A birch tree can sustain extreme weather conditions and hence is a symbol of stability, growth, and adaptability in Celtic cultures.
- Kingdom – Plantae (Plants)
- Division – Magnoliophyta (Flowering Plants)
- Class – Dicotyledons
- Order – Fagales (Beech, Birch Family)
- Family – Betulaceae (Birch Family)
- Genus – Betula (Birch)
Birches are deciduous trees belonging to genus Betula. The roots of its common name lie in an old German word birka. This genus name has a Latin origin; it comprises 30 to 60 taxa out of which the most common ones are described below.
The trees are closely related to the oak family and are usually found growing in the northern hemisphere.
Name: Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), also known as Canoe Birch.
These are small to medium-sized trees living up to 140 years. Color of the bark is commonly white and reddish-brown. The tree derives its name from its nature of easily peeling off, or flaking like a parchment of paper. The leaves are alternate and roughly triangular in shape. The male and female flowers are in separate catkins (inflorescences).
It is native to the northern part of North America.
It grows well in well-drained acidic soil. It also grows in sandy, or silty soil.
- The sap of this tree is used in the preparation of beer, wine, and birch syrup.
- The bark is widely used as a fire starter.
Name: Downy Birch (Betula pubescens), also known as European White Birch.
It is a medium-sized tree often mistaken for silver birch. Downy birch has a grayish-white bark with the presence of horizontal lenticular features on it. The leaves are ovate-triangular in shape having a serrated margin. Flowers bloom in spring, and the fruits are elongated.
These trees are found growing in Northern Europe, Asia, and are native to Iceland and Greenland.
It grows well in wet, poorly drained soil.
- Although the wood of this tree is prone to getting infected with insects, it is still commonly used in the construction of indoor furniture and other plywood objects.
Name: Water or Red birch (Betula occidentalis)
It is a small-sized tree growing up to 10 meters, usually along the banks of rivers or a water body. The bark is dark reddish-brown in color and does not exfoliate like other birch trees. Leaves are thin and ovate with serrated margin, and the twigs are hairy in nature. The female catkins are upright in nature whereas the male catkins are pendulous. Fruits contain multiple winged seeds.
This species is native to the western part of North America.
It grows well in wet soil.
- The wood is used as a firewood.
- It is helpful in reducing erosion and soil runoff when planted on the banks of water bodies.
- Due to its small size, it is often fed upon by animals, such as goats, deer, and sheep.
Name: Gray Birch (Betula populifolia)
It’s a small-sized tree, and although short-lived, it grows at a fast rate. It often has numerous trunks rising from an old tree stump. The bark is gray in color, has a triangular shape, and coloring at the point where the branch joins the trunk. The male flowers are pendulous and female flowers are upright. The fruit matures in autumn and is composed of numerous winged seeds.
It is native to North America.
Well-drained soil and sometimes sandy soil suit its growth.
- It is used as a firewood.
- It is used in the construction of furniture and high-grade plywood.
Name: River Birch (Betula nigra), also known as water birch, or black birch.
This is a medium to large-sized deciduous tree (25 – 30 meters) often having multiple trunks. The color of the bark is variable ranging from brown to creamy white. The bark peels in a manner of thin curly sheets. The leaves are alternate, ovate with a doubly serrated margin. Flowers are similar to all birches, and the fruits mature in late spring.
Native to Eastern United States, it is often found in swamps and floodplains.
It is best adapted for moist soil.
- It’s the most preferred tree for landscape designs.
- In olden days, the leaves were used as a cure for dysentery.
- The sap is used in the preparation of birch beer and vinegar.
Name: Silver Birch (Betula pendula)
It’s a medium-sized tree (15 – 25 meters tall) having a white bark, often with diamond-shaped markings on it. The leaves are triangular and doubly-toothed. The flowers bloom before the leaves during the onset of spring, with the fruits being produced during late summer.
It is found in Europe and Asia.
It grows well in sandy and dry soil.
- It is used for landscape designing.
- The sap is used in the treatment of kidney stones.
- The bark is used for tanning leather.
Name: Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis), also called Jacquemontii Birch
It’s a medium-sized tree (20 meters tall). The bark is reddish-brown with horizontal lenticels present on it, and it exfoliates in large sheets in a horizontal manner. Leaves are hairy and ovate. Flowers bloom in summer, and the fruits ripen in autumn.
It is native to the Himalayan range.
It grows well in wet soil.
- The peeled-off bark is often so broad that it can be used for writing long texts.
- It is commonly used for packing butter and as a bandage.
- It is widely used as firewood.
Other Common Varieties
|Height (in ft.)
|Spread (in ft.)
|Crimson Frost Birch
|30 to 35
|Upright and oval
|Good for heavy clay soil
|Heritage River Birch
|40 to 70
|Pyramidal or oval, multi-trunked
|40 to 60
|Suitable for acidic and moist soil, also adapts to clayey, wet soil
|60 to 80
|Well-drained and fertile sandy soil
|Young’s Weeping Birch
|Damp, well-drained, neutral
Eleven taxa out of the 30 to 60 discovered so far are included in the IUCN 2011 Red List of Threatened Species. Their extensive usage, mainly for furniture and other construction purposes, coupled with their short life, put them at a risk of being extinct in the distant future.