The slender silver birch is known in Scottish folklore as the Lady of the Woods. Witches reputedly fly brooms made of its branches and superstitious parents hang a bough over the cradle to protect baby from fairies. The silver birch, Betula pendula, is a fast-growing tree, not picky about location. These qualities make the tree a pioneer species, among the first trees to colonise a site. Relatively short-lived, a 50-year-old Lady of the Woods approaches the end of her reign.
Examine the birch tree and make an estimate of its height. At 10 years, it will not exceed 20 feet and doubles in height as it doubles its age. A silver birch attains maturity relatively early at 40 years -- compared to an oak that requires several hundred -- and soars about 100 feet into the sky at that point.
Look at the bark of the silver birch. A very young birch has soft, red bark. Over the course of several years, the bark turns increasingly white, until it achieves the silver-white hue that gives the species its name. As the tree approaches maturity, black marks or fissures appear on the white bark in arrow or diamond shapes. The darker the bark, the older the tree.
Count the rings of a fallen tree. Only use this approach to age a downed or dead silver birch. Using a saw with fine, sharp blades, cut through the stem about halfway up the tree. Do this twice, a few inches apart to obtain a slice. Look at the slice with a magnifying glass and count the rings. One ring is one year. The cleaner the cut, the more accurate the reading.
When homeowners plant silver birches for landscaping, the trees rarely survive 50 years largely due to poor planting choices. Silver birches prefer cool, moist soil and grow poorly on hot, dry soils. Select a moist planting location where your birch trees receive full sunshine on its leaves for much of the day. Often the east and north sides of a house works well.