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Betula pendulaSilver Birch

By Leanne Downs13 June 2019

There are many varieties of birch found all over Europe, Asia and North America. However Silver Birch or Betula pendula is one of the most common varieties native to the United Kingdom.

Where to find Silver Birch

Silver Birch can be found all over the UK, popular in forestry, parks and gardens.

How to identify Silver Birch

Silver Birch is loved for its striking pale white bark which is smooth when young but marked with grey and black as it ages. It’s leaves are small and triangular, light green in colour, with toothed edges.

In the autumn, the leaves turned golden yellow, contrasting prettily against the colour of its bark. From April through May, catkins are formed of which the male ones are long and a light brown-yellow colour and the female ones are smaller and green. These exist on the same tree with the female variety turning dark red after pollination.

Silver Birch grows well in woodlands and heaths on a variety of soil types including acidic, clay and sandy soils. It can be easily confused with Downy Birch which is also common  in the UK and the two species often hybridise.

Male and female catkins exist on the same tree | On older trees, the bark becomes knarled black and silver

Uses for Birch Trees

Silver Birch is good at improving soils for other species and often is the first to grow after forest fires, and for this reason is known as a pioneer species.

Wood from Silver Birch trees makes excellent firewood although it burns quickly which may not always be ideal. Its wood is also suitable for making furniture, toys and plywood. Birch can also be processed for tanning and protecting leather.

The sap from birch trees can be consumed as a refreshing drink or processed to make sweet birch sap syrup. Birch trees are also known to have medicinal properties and some prized medicinal mushrooms grow in partnership with birch. Xylitol, a sugar substitute is often also made using birch.

A young birch trunk next to one of an older birch | The bark is pale and silver with black marks as it ages

Leanne Downs

About Leanne Downs

Leanne Downs is the content editor for Thryve and works as an outdoor writer, blogger and photographer. She loves hiking, hillwalking and wild camping.

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