Silver birch is a deciduous broad-leaf tree native to the UK and is widely planted across Exeter. It is very similar to Downy birch, however Silver birch prefers drier and sandier soil so is very well suited in Devon. With it's striking white bark and swaying branches in the wind - it is often a favourite for artists and nature lovers alike. Silver birch is a pioneer species which means It is one of the first trees to colonise open (or cleared) land.
When mature they can reach heights of up to 30m.. The white bark sheds layers like paper and becomes black and rugged at the base as the tree matures. Over time the bark develops dark, diamond-shaped fissures giving it even more character. The twigs are smooth, and have small dark warts which is why it is sometimes known as the Warty birch. The canopy is quite open and allows a lot of light to the under-story and ground. The iconic red and white mushroom (Fly agaric) has a mycorrhizal relationship with Silver birch.
Silver birch has pointed, triangular leaves which fade to yellow during the autumn. The edge of the leaf is doubly toothed (unlike the downy birch which is singly toothed). They are sticky with resin at first, but this dries as they age, leaving small, white scales.
The buds are sharp pointed and are green-brown in colour
During the autumn the leaves turn a brilliant yellow
Silver birch is monoecious which means both the female and male flowers are found on the same tree but different parts. The flowers are catkins which are pollinated by the wind. The male catkins are yellow and brown and dangle quite freely whereas the female catkins are green and firm. Later on the female catkins will turn brown in colour and become quite papery - allowing dispersal of the seeds.
The wood of Silver birch is pale in colour with no distinct heartwood and is used in making furniture, plywood, veneers, parquet blocks, skis and kitchen utensils. It makes a good firewood that produces a good heat when burnt, but tends to burn out quite quickly. Slabs of bark are used for making roof shingles and strips are used for handicrafts such as wooden footwear and small containers. The bark was used for tanning in the past by many cultures. The bark can be heated and the resin collected as the resin is an excellent waterproof glue and useful for starting fires. Both the twigs and the thin sheets of papery bark are great for starting camp fires.
OTHER USEFUL LINKS
- Silver birch is a striking, medium-sized deciduous tree
- When mature they can reach 30m in height, but typically reach heights of up to to 20m
- Silver birch provides food and habitat for more than 300 insect species
- The leaves are also a food plant for the caterpillars of many moths, including the angle-shades, buff tip and pebble hook-tip
- Birch trees are particularly associated with specific fungi including fly agaric and woolly milk cap
- Woodpeckers and other hole-nesting birds often nest in the trunk
- The seeds are eaten by many small birds such as siskins, greenfinches and redpolls.
- In early Celtic mythology, the birch symbolised renewal and purification
- Birch wood is tough and heavy, making it suitable for furniture production, handles and toys
- In Scandinavia, Betula pendula is widely grown for its timber whereas in the UK they are planted as park trees
- Large quantities of Birch brushwood are used for racecourse jumps and traditional besom brooms
- Historically, it has been used to tan leather and the sap used to make a medicinal wine
- Silver birch can be used to improve soil quality as the roots are quite wide spread
- The silver birch is Finland's national tree
- The branches of the silver birch often have tangled masses of twigs known as witch's brooms which is caused by a fungus
- The silver birch has an open canopy which allows plenty of light to reach the ground
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