Betula Pendula

Silver or Common Birch

silver birch
silver birch

The Silver Birch is one of the best-known trees in cultivation today, especially in temperate regions, and is a common feature of forests, woodlands and gardens in Europe and parts of northern Asia. The leaves, bark, and oil extracted from the bark, are used for medicinal and culinary purposes.

Sap is collected in spring and is fermented to make beer, wine, spirits and vinegar. Silver birches are popular as ornamental garden trees, as they don’t grow too big, and under-storey plantings of flowers or lawns thrive beneath their light canopy.

Betula Pendula is a medium-sized, slender-shaped, deciduous tree with prominent white or silver bark that enhances the beauty of the stems and branches. In spring, bright-green leaves emerge, contrasting strongly with the pale colour of the bark on the limbs of the trees.

Individual leaves are smallish, diamond-shaped, and have serrated margins. They turn golden-yellow in early autumn – shedding relatively early compared to most other deciduous trees. Male and female catkins are borne on the same trees in early spring, just before leaf burst. The male catkins are pendent, while the female catkins are shorter and held in an upright position. Seeds disperse in autumn when the leaves drop. Their bare stems and branches add a unique and special dimension to the often stark winter landscape.

Birches grow in a wide range of soil conditions, although they don’t grow well in shallow, alkaline ground. They prefer cool roots and are often most successful in woodland conditions, where the trees shade one another’s root zones.

In gardens they are regularly planted in large groups, relatively close together, to form a copse, grove or thicket. By feathering the lower portion of the tree trunks (in other words, removing the lower lateral branches), the visual impact of the pale bark is enhanced. This practice also allows more light to penetrate beneath the tree canopy, helping low plants or lawn grass to flourish beneath the trees. They form spectacular focal points in the garden, either as individual specimens or in bold groupings, and have year-round appeal. Furthermore, they are neat, tidy and relatively clean trees.

The Silver Birch is a splendid tree for gardens – both large and small. But make sure that they are suited to your climate, before planting any in the garden. They need cold to thrive, and will disappoint in warmer climes.

The Gardener