Betula pendula var. carelica

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Silver Birch

Betula pendula

  • Name also: European White Birch, Warty Birch
  • Family: Birch Family – Betulaceae
  • Growing form and height: Usually tree with single trunk. 8–25 m (25–80 ft.).
  • Flower: Small, greenish to brownish, lacking perianth. Inflorescences dense, pendent catkins formed by numerous, 2–3-flowered cymes. Male and female flowers in separate inflorescences.
  • Leaves: Triangular to diamond-shaped, hairless. Margin doubly serrate (sawlike), rarely incised. Often reddish or brown when at emergence. Autumn colour yellow.
  • Buds: Narrowly tapering, rather small, brown.
  • Fruit: Small, winged achene.
  • Habitat: Dry and moist forests, eskers, rocky hills, drained mires, various marginal scrub. Also a park and forestry tree.
  • Flowering time: April–June. Flowers when coming into leaf.

The genus Betula comprises some 40 species, both trees, shrubs, and dwarf shrubs. The trunks of birches are covered with white or darkish, often papery bark. They flower when coming into leaf in the spring. The small flowers are unisexual, the inflorescence a catkin-like, dense compound cyme.

Silver birch can be distinguished from downy birch (B. pubescens) by its drooping branch tips and dark, fissured bark at the base of its trunk. Its young twigs are hairless but covered with resin warts, whereas those of downy birch are hairy but smooth. The leaves of silver birch are doubly serrate, those of downy birch only serrate.

Silver birch is a vigorously sprouting and light-demanding pioneer species which quickly occupies bare ground. It does not thrive on waterlogged soil. The timber is used for plywood and furniture. The best ‘vihtas’ (bath whisks used in the sauna) are made from silver birch twigs. Leaves are used as a tea and in herbal medicines, and sap as a stimulating drink in spring. Curly birch (var. carelica) is a hereditary variety of silver birch. Its wood is curly-grained. Several feather-leaved varieties of silver birch are used as ornamentals.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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