The silver birch (Betula pendula) is one of my absolute favourite British tree species for so many reasons. For one it is easy to identify which makes it great to introduce to kids. Secondly I think it is a very attractive tree. Finally the tree has been used for thousands of years for all sorts of exciting purposes.
The silver birch is easy to identify by it’s white, paper-like bark which can peel off in flakes. However it is only the outer bark which normally peels off in this way.
The birch generally isn’t a particularly large tree and is one of our shorter-lived species. They often succumb to diseases and fungi within 30-40 years of germination.
The silver birch is a deciduous tree that loses it’s small leaves in the winter months. It is most often therefore seen in deciduous woodland however birch is also one of our early colonizing species.
An area of land left to waste will often start to show small birches growing on it within a few years. In time, these birches become a small forest, before dying back and making way for the slower growing but longer lived deciduous species like oak or beech.
One aspect of managing moorland and heathland habitats involves ensuring that birches are kept in check so as to not choke out the gorses and heathers that make up this sensitive habitat.
With the use of a sharp knife it is possible to remove the bark from a birch without actually killing the tree. And birch bark once stripped from the tree is both waterproof and very bendable which meant that our ancestors could use it for a variety of practical uses including the creation of baskets or for covering shelters to keep out the rain.