Botanical Name: Betula pendula Roth
Synonyms: Betula alba Betula verrucosa, Ehrh, Betula aetnensis Raf., Betula alba var. pendula
Vernacular Names: Silver birch, Bed wen, Birk tree, Common birch, Lady birch, Lady of the woods, Warty birch, Weeping birch, White birch.
Origin, Distribution and Habitat:52 species, 2 native in Britain, both pioneer. Pollen dates from late tertiary period. Extending to 65th parallel north in Scandinavia, 103° east in Siberia. South to mountainous areas of Spain, Greece and Italy; altitude <500m. Habitat: woodland and clearings, heathland and sandy soil. Favours light, acidic soil, rare on chalky soils. Human dispersal usually by planting seedling stock, notable in Scandanavia. Many European countries encourage natural regeneration in mixed stands.
Conservation Status:Endemic status stable in UK and Europe. Sustainable use controlled through European Commission. Main threat to genetic diversity found at margin of distribution.
Holds high conservation value as it provides light, open canopy allowing for varied ground flora, insects, birds and animals.
Uses and Plant Products:
Traditional medicinal use in Europe for gout, rheumatism, and arthritic pain. Bark was used for tanning leather and waterproof roofing in Russia, and for boots and cloaks by some Laplanders. Multiple uses for Native Americans, including canoes. Key contemporary uses: timber, medicinal and ornamental.
Timber: Industrially produces high-quality saw timber in Europe; light hardwood, used for furniture, carpentry, and joinery . Larger volume of poorer quality timber for industrial plywood and pulpwood in Scandinavia.
Medicine: Leaves and bark as alternative medicine for urinary infections (diuretic). Used industrially in cosmetics as skin cream and essential oil as it is antipruritic. Activity prescribed to flavonoid glycosides and phenolics.
Other uses: Ornamental, particularly in UK and USA. Twigs and galls: used to fill out steeple-chase fences in UK, and make brushes (besoms), and tool and toy handles in Europe.
Managing, Harvesting and Manufacturing:Managed plots up to a density of 1600 seedlings/ha, weed control is vital early on. Timber harvesting on 60-80 year rotation, producing 320-540m3/ha. Felled mechanically, in winter; lumber cut and trimmed immediately after felling, selected timber goes to sawmills to be processed for use in carpentry and furniture-making.
Market status:Birch lumber same price range as maple/oak, prices often region specific. Major buyers Sweden, UK, and Germany; future demand will depend on fashion. Pulp/plywood industries provide large market. Plywood demand is increasing annually by 1.7%; demand from China will dictate future plywood prices. Processing outside industrial sawmills is significant but methods and markets difficult to determine.