Silver Birch – 8 Species Review

Silver Birch look the part on a cold and frosty morning. The white or silvery trunk looks good singly or when grouped together.
boxing morning 102

Key Features of the Silver Birch

  • Latin name Betula pendula other common names Curly birch, Paper Birch, Weeping Birch or Ribbon Tree
  • Height up to 100 feet 30m narrow spread.
  • Type of tree – Deciduous broad leaf
  • Leaves – Green and triangular shaped with toothed edges.
  • Flowers Male and female catkins borne on the same tree.
    Male are yellow and drooping female green and upright, later pendulous when fertilised.
  • Fruit Winged seeds borne in catkins
  • Bark Silver white with black fissures.
  • Family Betulacea

Origins and Distribution of the Silver Birch

  • European origin found throughout Europe, western and northern Asia.
  • Seeds prolifically and is found in Canada, Scandinavia, Turkey and widely spread as a specimen ornamental.

Uses and Commercial Attributes of the Silver Birch

  • Used for making barrels and furniture. The wood is too soft for use in construction
  • The fine twiggy branches are used for brooms and besoms as well as racecourse jumps.
  • Used as an ornamental tree in parks and gardens.
  • Silver birch is popular in Finland where it is the national tree used in forestry and as branches to beat yourself in the sauna.
  •   Historically the paper like bark was used in ancient times for writing Sanskrit texts and it is still used today for sacred mantras.

Gardeners Tips for the Silver Birch

  • Silver Birch grow in a cool climate and enjoy an occasional winter snowfall.
  • They are fast growing, shallow rooted that may require water during dry periods.
  • They grow best and show most colour in full sun planted in deep, well-drained soil..
  • Trees are short lived and rot from damage so dislike pruning.
  • They are often planted amongst leafy rhododendrons and conifers where the white bark is particularly striking.
  • The deciduous foliage turns yellow in autumn.

silver birch

Other types of Birch and Species

  • There are 40 different Birches including Himalayan Birch, Betula utilis which has white bark without the fissures
  • Betula platyphylla and Betula szechuanica are species common in Asia.
  • Paper Birch has flaky bark that was used in tanning Betula papyrifera.
  • Silver Birch can be confused with Downy Birch Betula pubescence
  • Betula alleghaniensis has a yellow bark that glows in the sun
  • Betula dahurica has peeling bark
  • Betula ermanii is a larger tree with a pink trunk
  • Betulaalbosinensis ‘Pink Champagne’ is another winter spectacular
  • Betula Jacqumontii is a tall, slender Himalayan birch tree with stunning white peeling bark.

Barking up the wrong tree

Silver Birch comments from elsewhere

  • Birch is believed to protect against evil spirits and the evil eye but it also symbolises love and fertility. In medieval times, a bundle of birch twigs was carried by the local magistrate on his way to court as a symbol of his authority and as a means of correction. The use of the birch as a punishment probably originates in the need to drive out evil spirits.

There are over 60 species of birch or Betula as they are known

silver-birch

Silver Birch or Betula pendula has gleaming white trunk and stems that look good in winter with yellowing leaves in autumn that add seasonal colour. As a native British tree birches are good for the environment and encourage wild life.

Growing Silver Birches

  • In a large garden a full grown Silver Birch can offer shelter to smaller less robust trees and shrubs.
  • Silver Birch prefer light sandy soil but are quite tolerant of most soil conditions.
  • Normally cultivated to above 30 feet tall Silver Birch seek out light, bright conditions.
  • Small ‘whips’ or saplings can be planted in Winter or Autumn and mature trees seed quite freely.
  • Tie young trees to a stake.
  • The branches can be tied together to make a beesom. The timber is white and used for craft work and furniture making.
  • A weeping Silver birch Betula pendula ‘Youngii’ produces a dome shaped or mushroom headed tree of lesser proportions.
  • The purple leaved Betula pendula ‘Pupurea’ may be sought out as an ornamental specialty.
  • Betula pubescence or Common White Birch has a reddish tinge to the bark and prefers damper soil.

Other Birches to Consider

  • The Betula papyrifera is a striking larger tree with white bark. Sometimes sold as Paper Birch or Canoe Birch the bark can peel and has appeal.
  • Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis or the Chinese red birchhas superior bark
  • For large catkins try the more shrubby Betula medwediewii with corrugated leaves that turn yellow in Autumn.
  • The best large tree may be the Betula ermanii with pinkish white trunk and orange branches.
  • At Westonbirt Arboretum you can see many Birches including Dahurica, Alleghaniensis and Utils. Make a visit to see them in situ before you choose a plant for yourself.
  • Our Root and branch review of Betula
  • For more information on native birch trees read Celebrating Birch
  • Follow the full story of Bark on our other pages

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