The birch is one of the most common of Britain’s native broad-leaved
trees. The Silver birch grows well all over Britain although Downy Birch
is more common in Scotland. It grows as quite a tall tree although
sometimes will grow small like a shrub but always with elegant, drooping
branches, a light canopy and whip like twigs.
Age and height
It grows up to 30 m and over 80 years old.
The bark is a whitish colour and sheds layers like tissue paper. The smooth twigs have little dark warts.
Downy Birch has greyish bark that doesn’t peel. The twigs are smooth with no warts.
The bark of both becomes rugged with darker diamond shaped crevices as it grows.
Leaves Flowers and seeds
Are small, roughly triangular and pointed with a toothed edge.
Female flowers called “catkins” are bright green at first becoming dark crimson in Summer. Before seeds are dropped they hang like “lamb tails”.
Where does the Birch grow?
Birches are found naturally in Northern Europe. They are pioneer species, with light wind blown seeds, that can grow quickly on bare land without being planted. Birch prefer light, dry and acid soils but are also able to cling to rocks and mountain sides. They can grow in cold climates and further North than any other tree; distinctive and shrub like Downy Birch in the Scottish highlands and the Dwarf Birch in the arctic circle. These invasive characteristics and its’ tolerance to pollution make it ideal for establishing trees on exposed and industrial sites.
Wildlife around the Birch
The Birch has high conservation value. The light, open canopy with spaced, small leaves give light shade on the woodland floor. This allows varied ground flora especially mosses, grasses and flowering plants to grow.
This means plenty of food for a wide range of insects, birds and many other animals. The Chaffinch, Tree Pipit, Willow Warbler, and Robin are characteristic to Birch woodlands. You may also find the Woodcock, Nightingale, Woodpecker or Redpoll.
Birch can withstand the wind, hard frosts and strong sunshine. Birchwoods in Scotland, for example, are particularly valuable as shelter from the weather for sheep and other animals.
Birch wood does not have much commercial value in Britain; it is grown more as a timber tree in Scandinavia. The wood is a pale, smooth and light hardwood used mostly for furniture and plywood.
Birch wood today
Smaller trees are used for tool and brush handles, toys.
The waterproof bark can be used for roofing and tanning leather.
The twigs can be bound together to make brushes called besoms.
Old uses - Spools, bobbins, boxes and handles.