Birch trees are known for their distinctive bark, which appears to peel away in long, horizontal strips in pieces as thin as paper. These medium-sized trees have inspired many artists from painters to poets, and their bark comes in a variety of colours, including white, gold, purple and salmon.
Birch Tree Characteristics
These midsized deciduous trees grow from 30 to 65 feet tall. The most distinctive characteristic is its bark, which enables easy identification. The sharp-edged leaves are typically green, and usually turn yellow in fall. Birch trees are considered short-lived with a lifespan of 80 to 140 years.
Birch Tree Types
There are many types of birch trees with a variety of bark colours. Some of the more common birch tree types are white or paper birch, with white bark that peels on older trees; grey birch, with a chalky-white bark that does not peel; European birch, with white bark and weeping branches; river birch, with salmon bark that turns to a dark reddish-brown as it ages; yellow birch, with yellow-orange bark that turns reddish-brown as it ages; and the black birch. with brown to almost black bark. The paper birch is the New Hampshire state tree.
Birch Tree Care
Birch trees require full sun and well-drained soil. They also require a lot of moisture, and can consume the equivalent of 10 bathtubs of water per day. Their water requirements are one of the primary reasons they naturally grow along rivers, lakes and north-facing slopes. Birches should only be pruned in late spring following full development of the leaves. Trimming any earlier will cause the tree to "bleed" sap, depleting its nutrition. Birch trees are susceptible to many pests, so specific control dependent upon the type of birch and pest is required.
Birch Tree Uses
The most popular and well-known uses for birch wood are birch-bark canoes and indoor basketball court floors. Native Americans have long used birch wood and bark for canoe skins and utensils. Considered a hardwood, birch has also been used to make firewood, toys, tongue depressors, toothpicks, paper, hardwood floors and high-end furniture. Birch is often used as a substitute for maple because stain is easily applied.
Miscellaneous Birch Tree Facts
A fully grown birch tree is capable of producing 1 million seeds per year. In Sweden and Leicesterchire, England, birch trees are tapped for their sap to be fermented and turned into a wine or spirit. People from Finland use the leaves to make a tea.