Tree of the Week – Part 3: The Silver Birch
Silver Birch – Betula pendula
Silver Birch, like the Common Oak which featured in Tree of the Week Part 1, is a native tree to Britain. It’s also called a ‘pioneer’ tree because it’s usually the first one to settle a newly opened up area. Whether at the edge of a woodland or a bit of open ground in an urban setting.
It’s a relatively east tree to recognise and spot: From a distance, particularly in this part of the country (North Midlands) that hazy, lilac look about the edges of moorlands…that’s all the purplish-brown young growth on Silver Birch. It’s fairly easy to identify close up too – all year round it has a distinctive smooth white bark with horizontal black stripes – as the tree matures it develops rough, black diamond shapes.
There’s something really beautiful about a stand of young Silver Birch – all those pure white straight stems and the way that light filters through the airy growth. So beautiful even, that the artist Gustav Klimt (usually known for his paintings of the female form highlighted with panels of gold) created a series of paintings featuring Birch forests!
A Silver Birch can make a brilliant tree for the average small garden – it never makes a huge tree because it’s fairly short-lived. The open canopy allows light through, so that bulbs and herbaceous plants can thrive beneath it and, most importantly, Silver Birch trees support a very large number of other wildlife species – helping the environment and making your garden so much more interesting!
Tree of the Week Facts, figures and legends!
- The Latin term Betula relates to ‘pitch’ or bitumen which is distilled from the bark of the tree. Pendula concerns the overall ‘droopiness’ of the tree’s shape.
- Because it’s taken for granted, there’s not a lot of records regarding oldest, biggest etc. but in his ‘Meetings with Remarkable Trees’ Thomas Pakenham notes a gnarly old veteran in a clearing of Rothiemurchus Forest.
- A single Silver Birch can provide habitat and food for over 300 insect species! They’re also the place to look if you want to see the fairytale red & white spotted Fly Agaric mushroom, as they have a natural association.
- Seed of the Silver Birch is powder fine and wind dispersed so it can travel massive distances, which means that it can successfully produce more seedling trees than any other common tree.
- Birch was important in early Celtic mythology – it was noted for it’s purity and it’s ability to clean. Gardeners often used besoms or brooms made of bundled Birch twigs to sweep the garden clean. Love and fertility were also guaranteed with a gentle prod or stroke from a Birch twig?!
Personal favourites/recommendations/wish list trees:
- The Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree Hunt lists a veteran Silver Birch in Cumbria with a girth of over 5m – worth a visit?!
You can find out loads more about Silver Birch trees on websites such as: