|Leaf Shape||Oval to elliptical|
|Mature Height||30 to 80 feet depending on type|
|Best Habitat||Cool and damp
|Uses||Furniture, medicine and fuel|
Birch trees are a landscaper's prize specimen. In addition to possessing a number of attractive qualities, including colored bark, graceful branches, manageable height and gorgeous fall foliage, Birch trees are fairly easy to maintain and their wood can be sold commercially. The challenge of maximizing the tree's value is finding the type that best suits your property.
Appearance of the Tree
Birches are enchanting trees that embody beauty and grace. While most types of Birch trees grow to roughly 40 feet, some, such as the Paper and Yellow Birch can soar to 80 feet tall.
Just as the height of the tree varies among species, so do the Birch's other characteristics:
- Leaves: The leaves of the Birch tree are typically oval to elliptical-shaped. For example, the leaves of the Yellow Birch are oval, while the Gray Birch has more elliptical-shaped leaves. In addition, the leaves range in color from light green to forest green during the summer months. In the fall, the leaves turn a spectacular array of yellow, brown and orange.
- Bark: Birch trees are known for their unique bark. All Birches, except for the Gray Birch, feature peeling barks. The thin bark peels off in long strips. Another identifying trait of Birch tree bark is its color. The young Paper Birch starts off brown but turns chalky white as it ages. Meanwhile, River Birch features a kaleidoscope of colors, including tan, pink, and silver. Birch bark is smooth during its younger years, but gets thick and deeply ridged as the tree matures.
- Flowers: The Birch tree produces flowers known as catkins. The bloom is long and droops from branches in clusters. The catkins can be seen in the late summer and early fall, though some hang on through the winter.
Birch trees are relatively hardy and can live up to 200 years in the right growing conditions.
Birch Tree Types
The Birch is a member of the Betula genus which features nearly 60 different species.
Among the most notable types are:
- Paper Birch: Native to North America, the Paper Birch is treasured for its ornamental value. The tree has a creamy white bark and delicate green leaves. It is one of the largest Birches and can reach heights of 80 feet.
- European White Birch: The medium-sized tree is typically planted in urban areas where it explodes with color during autumn.
- Gray Birch: This is the only type of Birch whose bark does not peel. The trunk is tall and stately and thrives in moist soil.
- Yellow Birch: Bark is golden yellow to yellow-orange and peels into curled-up strips. The towering tree is a slow grower and has an extensive root system.
Other types of Birch trees used for decorative purposes include:
- Silver Birch
- Bog Birch
- Downy Birch
- Asian White Birch
- Blue Birch
- Sweet Birch
- Dwarf Birch
- Resin Birch
- Northern Birch
- Water Birch
- Cherry Birch
Where the Birch Grows
The Birch tree can be found growing worldwide, from Russia and Japan to Europe and across North America, including Canada and the northern portion of the United States. The trees thrive in moist soil and require full sunlight. Birches are particularly fond of damp and cool environments, especially since their root systems are so shallow and they're susceptible to drought conditions.
Birch trees are known for their stunning satin-like, fine-grained wood. Their strong wood is also valued for its color which deepens with exposure to air, making it look like mahogany.
The Birch's highly-prized trunk and branches can be transformed into a variety of items, including:
- Bed frames
- Doll houses
- Model planes
- Guitar amplifiers
- Tool handles
- Fence posts
- Railroad ties
Birch tree timber is also used for fuel. Water Birch is especially coveted for firewood which is sold throughout the United States.
The Birch tree plays an interesting part in European folklore where it is associated with death. Despite its dark past, the Birch is the national tree of Russia where it used to be worshipped as a goddess. In addition, New Hampshire adopted the Birch as its state tree and uses it to spruce up urban environments.
Other interesting facts about the tree include:
- On the night of May 1st young men in Germany decorate Birch trees and leave them in front of their sweetheart's house as a token of their love.
- Birch bark can be soaked in water and used as a cast for broken bones.
- The bark can also be consumed to alleviate stomach ailments.
- Beavers use Birch trees to build dams.
- Many animals, including birds, deer, moose rabbits, and turkeys use the Birch tree as a source of food.
Birchs are large, hardy and seemingly indestructible. Unfortunately, the attractive trees are prone to numerous diseases, such as:
- Birch Tree Canker: This fungus enters from the soil and can travel throughout the tree forming irregularly shaped sores which appear on the trunk, stem or branches. In some cases the cankers open and ooze watery sap.
- Anthracnose: This group of diseases is caused by fungus and can attack the Birch so severely that it causes the tree to lose its leaves. Damage is most profound during periods of especially cool and wet weather.
- Leaf Blister: This disease can occur as a result of a fungal infection. Symptoms include curling leaves that are covered with red blisters.
By protecting your Birch you can look for it to grow and prosper for at least 50 years. However, some types of especially delicate Birch trees die before they reach 20 years old.
Since most Birch trees are cultivated for their attractiveness, it pays to pay close attention to its care. By following these simple growing tips you can help keep your Birch healthy and strong for years to come:
- Never plant a Birch tree under overhead wires. Since the trees often exceed 40 feet tall, it's best to plant Birches in open areas.
- Avoid planting in compact soils. Birches have a very shallow root system that can destroy driveways and sidewalks.
- Most Birch trees thrive in moist soils that are slightly acidic. The exceptions are the River and Paper Birch which do better in alkaline soils.
- Do not plant a Birch in the shade of a building or other structure. The tree needs direct sunlight to grow.
Finally, you do not need to fertilize a growing Birch unless you notice that it is not getting proper nutrition from the surrounding soil. Also, pruning is not necessary unless the tree experiences an infection or is damaged by high winds.