Common name: Silver Birch
Scientific name: Betula pendula
Introduction: The Silver Birch is a UK-native, medium-sized deciduous tree that typically is grown in gardens. They play an important role in our ecosystem and are believed to possess purity properties.
Leaves: Leaves are distinctively deltoid with a toothed edge. They are small and green in colour, changing to a yellow in autumn when they proceed to drop.
Buds: Small and sticky.
Bark: The bark of a Silver Birch is distinctively white and flakes off in layers to reveal slits of a dark brown-black and rough bark. As a tree begins to mature the white–bark darkens slightly and develops diamond-like fissures.
[The bark of a Silver Birch]
Form: Medium-sized with an elegant, pendulous appearance. They typically form light canopies.
Silver Birches are monoecious meaning they have both male and female flowers on the same tree. Their male catkins are typically long, yellowy-brown and form in groups between two and four at the end tips of shoots. Its female catkins are a vibrant green and a lot shorter and smaller. They proceed to get pollinated by the wind and thicken, changing to a dark red colour. Eventually, a great number of small-scale seeds are released and then proceed to be dispersed by the wind.
Silver birch play a vital role in our ecosystem for many reasons. Birch woodland helps to curate an ideal environment for grasses, mosses and bluebells to form due to its light canopy, as well as providing a habitat and food source to hundreds of insects and birds. Silver birches are also a particularly favourable nesting site for birds such as woodpeckers. Their leaves are attractive to aphids which draw in other insects while also providing a food source for a variety of caterpillar moth species. A variety of birds also eat their seeds. Additionally, the Silver Birch has a range of fungi associated with it including Fly Agaric, Birch Milk Cap and Birch Knight, to name a few. They can also be used to improve soil quality due to their wide-spread roots.
Properties of Silver Birch Wood and its Uses
Silver Birchwood is tough and dense which is why it is favoured in the production of furniture. In the UK, however, Silver Birch has less of a commercial value as they have slightly hindered growth than those in other countries.
Styling of Silver Birch/Where to Find Them
Particularly tolerant to certain temperatures, the Silver Birch thrive in woodlands and heaths alongside in gardens and parks.
Associated Pests and Diseases
Planted Silver Birches are more susceptible to Birch dieback, a disease caused by the pathogenic fungi Marssonia betulae and Anisogramma virgultorum. However, naturally formed Silver Birches appear to be more resistant. The Silver Birch can also be affected by rust and leaf spot, alongside attracting pests such as the Bronze Birch Borer and Leaf-Mining Sawflies.
Celtics believed that the Birch tree symbolised renewal and purification, which is why gardeners today still use Silver Birches to help purify their gardens.
Silver Birches require light pruning to help them remain healthy and promote growth. Ideally, this light pruning should be carried out late summer to early autumn to reduce the risk of bleeding sap – Silver birches are renowned for bleeding heaving after they come out of their winter dormancy period which therefore should be avoided as sap attracts pests and disease which could endanger your Silver Birch. It is also important that you remove congested branches (typically when the tree is young) to encourage good airflow which in turn also helps to reduce the risk of pests and diseases. Dead or diseased branches should also be removed when spotted as to prevent further damage or spread. It is imperative that you also do NOT prune your tree if your Silver Birch has birds nesting in it. It is a legal offence and should be avoided at all costs.
If you are ever in doubt about what your tree may need or need some questions answered, then you should always contact your local tree surgeon. They will be able to give you qualified advice and guidance. You can find your local tree surgeon here.
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