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Birch Trees | Betula Trees

Birch trees or Betula trees, to use their Latin name are a hardwood deciduous (broadleaf) genus comprising approximately 60 species and numerous cultivars.  Closely related to Beech and Oak. Birch is often referred to as The Watchful Tree due to the eye-like impressions on the bark. The well-known peeling bark of Birch trees is one of the reasons they are some of our most popular ornamental trees. The horizontal lines on the trunks of Betula trees are called 'lenticels' and are almost like a unique Morse code on each tree. The bark also produces a resin which make Birch trees resistant to decay.  It takes time to develop the pale colour on Birch trees - often they start off when young quite brownish but as they mature they become bright cool white or pearlescent pale coral pink, depending on the variety.  Mature Birch trees shed their bark in very thin layers like scraps of paper.

They produce both male and female flowers, in the form of catkins as the tree's new leaves appear in the Spring.

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.

Whilst this genus is mostly known for it's white bark, there are newer varieties with blush, ginger, shades of red and even purple.

Cultural uses of Birch Trees:

  • In Celtic folklore they 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
  • It is the national tree of both Finland and Russia

Common uses of Birch Trees:

  • Extracts from birch trees are used in flavourings and cosmetics, e.g. shampoos and soaps
  • Fragrant Birch twigs are used in saunas and spas to help relax the muscles
  • The twigs of Betula trees, when bound into a bundle were historically used for 'birching' which is a form of punishment
  • North American Indians regarded birch wood very highly and used it for making lightweight canoes
  • Birch 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
  • The wood contains an oil which makes it practically imperishable, and so it is commonly used to build waterproof roofs on houses in Scandinavia

Not only do Betula trees have attractive exfoliating bark, they also boast many other features, such as: varying bark colour (cream, red, brown, gold and white); a dense canopy of foliage; screening and windbreak properties; and the ability to thrive in many situations. Birch Trees are good pioneer species and are popularly planted in the most difficult sites. Small birch trees are ideal for planting in small gardens or when space is at a premium.

Ornamental Trees have a huge choice of Birch Trees, many of which with more unusual characteristics. Why not plant a multi-stem variety for a great garden feature?

Make sure to check out our range of Planting Essentials. We highly recommend planting with root grow and protecting your tree with a cane and rabbit guard kit.

Birch Trees | Betula Trees
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