Birch trees, or Betula trees to use their Latin name, are favoured for their light, airy foliage and beautifully coloured peeling bark. Whilst Betula are mostly known for having white bark, we also offer newer varieties with blush, ginger, cream and red coloured bark. It takes them time to develop the bark colour, but we offer some varieties specially bred to develop it at an earlier age.
Whilst the popularity of Birch trees is due to their attractive exfoliating bark, they also boast many other features including catkins that appear with the tree's new leaves in Spring, pretty pale yellow coloured foliage, airy foliage that creates lovely dappled shade and an ability to thrive in many situations. The bark also produces a resin which make Birch trees resistant to decay. The horizontal lines on their trunks are called 'lenticels'. The native Silver Birch is often referred to as The Watchful Tree due to the eye-like impressions on the bark.
Amongst the most hardy of trees available, Birches are pretty easy to grow in any reasonably fertile, well drained soil (although Betula nigra is excellent in damp but not waterlogged soil). They need sun or dappled shade and ideally some protection from cold winds and it's sensible not to plant in a frost pocket. Some say that planting in full sun helps keep the bark colours bright (by producing botulin which gives the trees their chalky white bloom). You can gently wash down (cool water) the bark to remove accumulated grime. Betula albosinsensis varieties are slower growing so they tend to be most suitable for smaller gardens/situations where a smaller tree is required.
Betula is the Latin name for this hardwood deciduous genus. The wood itself has many uses, from when North American Indians used it for making lightweight canoes to nowadays when it is commonly used to build waterproof roofs on houses in Scandinavia. The wood contains an oil which makes it practically imperishable and so an ideal building material. Birch wood also makes great firewood, it does not pop when burning and will ignite even when wet due to the oils in the bark.
Birch tree sap is used to make a traditional drink in parts of China, Russia and Northern Europe. It can also be made into a syrup which goes well with waffles and pancakes. Extracts are also used in cosmetics, e.g. shampoos and soaps. Fragrant Birch twigs are used in saunas and spas to help relax the muscles. Historically the twigs were bound into a bundle and used for 'birching', which is a form of punishment.
It is the national tree of both Finland and Russia and also has historical cultural relevance. In Celtic folklore Birch trees represent growth, renewal and initiation. The Czech word for the month of March is Brezen (Birch) as Birch trees flower during March under the local conditions.