Birch, Betula

tree of the family Betulaceae (Alder, Birch, Hornbeam)

Etymology: from Latin "Betula".
Origin: Northern Europe. The Birch covers 1 % of French forest (see the graph of repartition of the French forest).
Species: there are American and Chinese birch species. In all 40 species.
Habitat : the birch is a pioneer species (as the Alder) because it accepts poor, but humid and sunny soils (species of full light). The birch absorbs and evaporates a lot of water. It does not support the too dry territories. We do not encounter in southern France. The White Birch is more Nordic than the White Birch; it is met until Siberia and in Greenland. It also asks for more humidity.

Roots: creeping. They spread out far from the trunk: do not plant birch near a pipe or a terrace.
Quick growth.
Hardiness: the White Birch supports cold until -40 ° (zone 3). The Common Birch supports cold until -23 °C or -9 °F (zone 6).
Lifespan: 100 years. As species pioneer, the birch does not see old.
White, smooth, glossy bark, marked with horizontal lines. The bottom of the trunk, and by going back up for elderly plants, is deeply cracked. The White Birch has pink stains.
Deciduous foliage. Leaves are alternate, sometimes opposite, and toothed. The birch flourishes at about 20-30 years.
Flowers: the flowers of the Birch are catkins. The male catkins are located at the top of the stem so as to disperse their pollen the best. They are found on the tree from autumn. When they arrive at maturity, just after the bud, in March, they are pendulous and can measure up to 10 cm long. The female flowers are also catkins, but smaller (3 cm) and they are raised.

Risk of allergenic pollen :


Common Birch
Betula pendula, B. verrucosa

White Birch
Betula pubescens
Branches pendulous not pendulous
Stems glabrous, with resinous warts pubescents, not verrucate
Leaves triangulars (7 cm), doubly toothed in rhomb
Underside glabrous pubescent

birch of Europe,
Common Birch

White Birch

White Birch,
fruit-bearing catkin

White Birch,
male catkins

Legends and traditions: in Roman mythology, the birch branches were used for flogging and "Purification" of the convicted prisoners; they encircled the symbolic ax of lictors. In Celtic astrology, the birch is " the inspiration ".
Uses: the wood of the birch is light and uniform. It serves in tackle and in joinery. The birch is interesting for all kind of folding because of its mechanical qualities: once folded steamed, it keeps its shape easily. Some birches are exploited for the unwinding: ice cream sticks, tongue depressors, painting sticks are fabricated, etc. The Asiatic markets are being very fond of of its colour cream white.
Its bark could replace the paper (it is fine) or be cut up in shingles for covering roofs because it is waterproof. Of the sap, one drew the "wine of birch", in the North of Europe, in Russia and in North America. The sap is also used for medical aims. An oil by distillation of the resinous buds is got. Finally, due to its essential oils, its wood burns easily and is appreciated as firewood. Planted in a garden, it is necessary to know that the birch will disseminate pollen and that many persons may be allergic.

Other species: Birch laciniate, Betula pendula Dalecarlica. It also has a weeping shape. It is characterised by the very serrated form of his leaves.


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