Silver birch (SBI)

Betula pendula

Native range

Native to all parts of the British Isles up to the tree line.

Provenance choice

British seed sources of good form or material from breeding programmes should be used. Avoid seed sources from more continental European climates.

Site requirements

A light demanding pioneer species with fast early growth which is both frost resistant and windfirm. Grows on a wide range of mineral soils from very poor to medium nutrient status but on wetter soils it tends to be replaced by downy birch. It is a relatively short lived species and mature trees often die after a severe drought (e.g. 1976, 2003). It often colonises restock sites where mixtures with both conifers and broadleaves can develop.

Pests and pathogens

Widespread and gradual dieback of birch occurs in some areas, especially in young trees 5-10 years after planting. Rust pathogen Melamsporidium betulinum is considered important on birch in several European countries, associated with retarded height growth and increased mortality. Provenance and environmental conditions play a role in infection levels. On silver birch two canker fungi are particularly associated with the dieback – Discula betulina and Marssonina betulae. Provenance may be an important factor in determining susceptibility to these diseases, although climatic variables also play a part. Betula is also rated as very susceptible to Armillaria root rot (honey fungus).


The use of silver birch in British forestry has increased over recent decades and this is likely to continue but with climate change the species may be increasingly vulnerable to drought on drier sites.