Species of the genus Betula are a difficult group taxonomically because of their high vegetative variability and frequent hybridization. Many species have been founded on only slight differences and many of these have subsequently been reduced to synonymy. Many morphologic and cytologic studies have attempted to deal with variation within the genus or its subgroups. Species of Betula form a polyploid series, with chromosome numbers of 2 n = 28,
, and 112, plus additional numbers in some hybrids.
Betula × aurata rhombifolia (Tausch) Tzvelev
Betula × kusmisscheffii (Regel) Sukaczev
Betula acuminata Kindb.
Betula alba L.
Betula alba carpatica (Waldst. & Kit. ex Willd.) Regel
Betula alba friesii Regel
Betula alba frutescens Wallr.
Betula alba glabrata (Wahlenb.) Muñoz Garm. & Pedrol
Betula alba glutinosa Trautv. ex Regel
Betula alba hornemannii Regel
Betula alba kusmisscheffii Regel
Betula alba lupulina Wallr.
Betula alba odorata (Bechst.) Dippel
Betula alba ovata Neilr.
Betula alba parvifolia (Regel) Regel
Betula alba pontica P.Watson
Betula alba pubescens (Ehrh.) Spach
Betula alba pumila L.
Betula alba rhombifolia (Tausch) Regel
Betula alba torfacea Custor
Betula alba tortuosa (Ledeb.) Regel
Betula alba typica Trautv.
Betula alba urticifolia Loudon
Betula alba vulgaris Aiton.
Betula ambigua Hampe ex Rchb.
Betula andreji V.N.Vassil.
Betula asplenifolia Regel
Betula aurea Steud.
Betula baicalia V.N.Vassil.
Betula borealis Spach
Betula borysthenica Klokov
Betula broccembergensis Bechst.
Betula browicziana Güner
Betula callosa Notø
Betula canadensis K.Koch
Betula carpatica Waldst. & Kit. ex Willd.
Betula caucasica Litv. ex Leskov
Betula concinna Gunnarsson
Betula coriacea Gunnarsson
Betula coriifolia Tausch ex Regel
Betula czerepanovii N.I.Orlova
Betula dalecarlica L.f.
Betula friesii Larss. ex Hartm.
Betula glabra Dumort.
Betula glauca Wender.
Betula glutinosa Wallr.
Betula golitsinii V.N.Vassil.
Betula hackelii Opiz ex Steud.
Betula jacutica V.N.Vassil.
Betula krylovii G.V.Krylov
Betula laciniata Blom.
Betula laciniata Thunb.
Betula lenta Du Roi
Betula litwinowii Doluch.
Betula lucida Courtois
Betula macrostachya Schrad. ex Regel
Betula major Gilib.
Betula megaloptera Kindb.
Betula microdontia Kindb.
Betula murithii Gaudin ex Regel
Betula nigricans Wender.
Betula odorata Bechst.
Betula ovata K.Koch
Betula platyodontia Kindb.
Betula pontica Loudon
Betula populifolia Aiton
Betula pumila borealis (Spach) Regel
Betula recurvata (I.V.Vassil.) V.N.Vassil.
Betula rhombifolia Tausch
Betula rotundata Beck
Betula sajanensis V.N.Vassil.
Betula sokolowii Regel
Betula stenocarpa Kindb.
Betula subarctica Orlova
Betula subarctica pojarkovae Tzvelev
Betula subodorata Kindb.
Betula tomentosa Reitter & Abeleven
Betula torfacea (Custor) Schleich.
Betula tortuosa Ledeb.
Betula tortuosa kusmisscheffii (Regel) Regel
Betula transcaucasica V.N.Vassil.
Betula tricholepidea Kindb.
Betula urticifolia (Loudon) Regel
Betula virgata Salisb.
Common Name: White Birch
Betula pubescens is a deciduous tree with a narrow, open crown; it can grow to around 20 metres tall[
]. It is often reduced to less than 1 metre in extreme habitats, particularly in northern tundra and on mountains[
The tree has a very wide range of traditional uses and is still harvested from the wild for local use as a food, medicine and source of materials. It is sometimes cultivated as a timber crop and is also often grown as an ornamental in gardens. It makes an excellent pioneer species for re-establishing native woodland.
The population of this species is declining in some areas, including southern Europe, due to a decline in peat bog habitats. However, given its widespread distribution, common occurrence throughout Europe, the presence of stable populations and the absence of major threats across much of its range, the plant is classified as 'Least Concern' in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species(2013)[
Eurasia - Norway to Spain, east through the Caucasus to Turkey, Iran, the Russian Far East; N. America - Newfoundland, Greenland
Open woodland and heaths, usually on acid soils, to 830 metres[
]. Mixed woodlands, floodplains, as successional habitat on fens, mires and bogs, by streams and hill-side flushes, peaty hollows, roadsides and field boundaries[
|Conservation Status||Least Concern
|Other Uses Rating||
|Cultivation Status||Ornamental, Wild
Birch is found on a wide range of soils in the wild, though it prefers more acidic, wetter, peatier soils, especially in the uplands[
]. In cultivation it generally succeeds in a well-drained light loamy soil in a sunny position[
]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Tolerates a wet position[
], succeeding in poorly drained soils[
]. Fairly wind tolerant[
A fast growing species, capable of growing 1 metre a year, although it is short-lived[
]. It is one of the first trees to colonize open land and it creates a suitable environment for other woodland trees to follow[
]. These trees eventually shade out the birch trees[
Trees take about 15 years from seed to produce their own seed[
Although closely related, it does not usually hybridize with Betula pendula[
]. It hybridizes freely with Betula pendula according to another report[
A superb tree for encouraging wildlife, it has over 200 associated insect species[
A good plant to grow near the compost heap, aiding the fermentation process[
]. It is also a good companion plant, its root activity working to improve the soil[
Species in this genus are notably susceptible to honey fungus[
Inner bark - cooked or dried, ground into a powder then used with cereals for making bread etc[
]. Inner bark is generally only seen as a famine food, used when other forms of starch are not available or are in short supply[
Sap - raw or cooked. A sweet flavour[
]. Harvested in early spring, before the leaves unfurl, by tapping the trunk. The flow is best on sunny days following a heavy frost. The sap is often concentrated into a sugar by boiling off the water. Between 4 and 7 litres can be drawn off a mature tree in a day and this will not kill the tree so long as the tap hole is filled up afterwards[
]. However, prolonged or heavy tapping will kill the tree. A beer can be fermented from the sap. An old English recipe for the beer is as follows:-
'To every Gallon of Birch-water put a quart of Honey, well stirr'd together; then boil it almost an hour with a few Cloves, and a little Limon-peel, keeping it well scumm'd. When it is sufficiently boil'd, and become cold, add to it three or four Spoonfuls of good Ale to make it work...and when the Test begins to settle, bottle it up . . . it is gentle, and very harmless in operation within the body, and exceedingly sharpens the Appetite, being drunk ante pastum.'[
Young leaves - raw or cooked[
]. No more details are given.
A tea is made from the leaves[
] and another tea is made from the essential oil in the inner bark[
The plant is antiinflammatory, cholagogue, diaphoretic[
The bark is diuretic and laxative[
The inner bark is bitter and astringent, it is used in treating intermittent fevers[
An oil obtained from the inner bark is astringent and is used in the treatment of various skin afflictions, especially eczema and psoriasis[
The bark is usually obtained from trees that have been felled for timber and can be distilled at any time of the year[
The buds are balsamic[
]. The young shoots and leaves secrete a resinous substance which has acid properties, when combined with alkalis it is a tonic laxative[
The leaves are anticholesterolemic and diuretic[
]. They also contain phytosides, which are effective germicides[
]. An infusion of the leaves is used in the treatment of gout, dropsy and rheumatism, and is recommended as a reliable solvent of kidney stones[
The young leaves and leaf buds are harvested in the spring and dried for later use[
A decoction of the leaves and bark is used for bathing skin eruptions[
The vernal sap is diuretic[
The boiled and powdered wood has been applied to chafed skin[
Moxa is made from the yellow fungous excrescences of the wood, which sometimes swell out of the fissures[
A pioneer species, it readily invades old fields, cleared or burnt-over land and creates conditions suitable for other woodland trees to become established. Since it is relatively short-lived and intolerant of shade, it is eventually out-competed by these trees[
The bark is used to make drinking vessels, canoe skins, roofing tiles etc. It is waterproof, durable, tough and resinous[
]. Only the outer bark is removed, this does not kill the tree. It is most easily removed in late spring to early summer. The bark was pressed flat and stored until the following spring. When required for making canoes it would be heated over a fire to make it pliable for shaping to the canoe frame[
A tar-oil is obtained from the white bark in spring. It has fungicidal properties and is also used as an insect repellent[
]. It makes a good shoe polish[
]. Another report says that an essential oil is obtained from the bark and this, called 'Russian Leather' has been used as a perfume[
A glue is made from the sap.
Cordage can be made from the fibres of the inner bark. This inner bark can also be separated into thin layers and used as a substitute for oiled paper[
A decoction of the inner bark is used to preserve cordage, it is rich in tannin. The bark contains up to 16% tannin[
A brown dye is obtained from the inner bark.
An oil similar to Wintergreen oil (obtained from Gaultheria procumbens) is obtained from the inner bark[
]. It is used medicinally and also makes a refreshing tea[
The young branches are very flexible and are used to make whisks, besoms etc[
]. They are also used in thatching and to make wattles[
The leaves are a good addition to the compost heap, improving fermentation[
A black paint is obtained from the soot of the plant[
A high quality charcoal is obtained from the bark. It is used by artists, painters etc.
Wood - soft, light, durable. It is used for a wide range of purposes including furniture, tool handles, carving, toys etc[
]. It is a source of charcoal that is used by artists and is also pulped and used for making paper[
The wood is a pale, smooth and light hardwood used mostly for furniture and plywood[
Valuable carving material is furnished by the 'birch burls,' accrescences formed about the root or more rarely on the trunk or on sucker growth[
Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a light position in a cold frame[
]. Only just cover the seed and place the pot in a sunny position[
]. Spring sown seed should be surface sown in a sunny position in a cold frame[
]. If the germination is poor, raising the temperature by covering the seed with glass can help[
]. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a cold frame for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts.
If you have sufficient seed, it can be sown in an outdoor seedbed, either as soon as it is ripe or in the early spring - do not cover the spring sown seed. Grow the plants on in the seedbed for 2 years before planting them out into their permanent positions in the winter[