Birch

Birch is the name of any tree of the genus Betula, in the family Betulaceae, closely related to the beech/oak family, Fagaceae.

Description

Birch species are generally small to medium-size trees or shrubs, mostly of temperate climates. The simple leaves may be toothed or pointed. The fruit is a small samara, although the wings may be obscure in some species. They differ from the alders in that the female catkins are not woody and disintegrate at maturity, falling apart to release the seeds, unlike the woody cone-like female alder catkins.

The bark of all birches is characteristically marked with long horizontal lenticels, and often separates into thin papery plates, especially upon the Paper Birch. It is practically imperishable, due to the resinous oil which it contains. Its decided color gives the common names Red, White, Black, Silver and Yellow to different species.

The buds form early and are full grown by midsummer, all are lateral, no terminal bud is formed; the branch is prolonged by the upper lateral bud. The wood of all the species is close-grained with satiny texture and capable of taking a fine polish; its fuel value is fair.

The leaves of the different species vary but little. All are alternate, doubly serrate, feather-veined, petiolate, and stipulate. Apparently they often appear in pairs, but these pairs are really borne on spur-like two-leaved lateral branchlets.

Flower and fruit

The flowers are monoecious, opening with or before the leaves and borne on three-flowered clusters in the axils of the scales of drooping or erect aments. Staminate aments are pendulous, clustered or solitary in the axils of the last leaves of the branch of the year or near the ends of the short lateral branchlets of the year. They form in early autumn and remain rigid during the winter. The scales of the staminate aments when mature are broadly ovate, rounded, yellow or orange color below the middle, dark chestnut brown at apex. Each scale bears two bractlets and three sterile flowers, each flower consisting of a sessile, membranaceous, usually two-lobed, calyx. Each calyx bears four short filaments with one-celled anthers or strictly, two filaments divided into two branches, each bearing a half-anther. Anther cells open longitudinally. The pistillate aments are erect or pendulous, solitary; terminal on the two-leaved lateral spur-like branchlets of the year. The pistillate scales are oblong-ovate, three-lobed, pale yellow green often tinged with red, becoming brown at maturity. These scales bear two or three fertile flowers, each flower consisting of a naked ovary. The ovary is compressed, two-celled, and crowned with two slender styles; the ovule is solitary.

The ripened pistillate ament is called a strobile and bears tiny winged nuts, packed in the protecting curve of each brown and woody scale. These nuts are pale chestnut brown, compressed, crowned by the persistent stigmas. The seed fills the cavity of the nut. The cotyledons are flat and fleshy. All the species are easily grown from seed. is thermoplastic and waterproof; it was used as a glue on, for example, arrows, and also for medicinal purposes.

Silver Birch is Finland's national tree. Occasionally one uses leafy, fragrant twigs of silver birch to gently beat oneself in a sauna. The twigs are called vihta or vasta''. This has a relaxing effect on the muscles.

Birchleaves

Birch leaves make a diuretic tea and to make extracts for dyes and cosmetics.

Ground birch bark, fermented in sea water, is used for seasoning the woolen, hemp or linen sails and hemp rope of traditional Norwegian boats.

Birch twigs were bound in a bundle, also called birch, to be used for birching, a form of corporal punishment.

Many of the First Nations of North America prized the birch for its bark, which due to its light weight, flexibility, and the ease with which it could be stripped from fallen trees, was often used for the construction of strong, waterproof but lightweight canoes, bowls, and wigwams.

Birch is used as firewood due to its high calorific value per unit weight and unit volume. It burns well, without popping, even when frozen and freshly hewn. The bark is also used in starting fires. The bark will burn very well, even when wet, because of the oils it contains. With care, the bark can be split into very thin sheets that will ignite from even the smallest of sparks.

Birches also have spiritual importance in several religions, both modern and historical.

Birch ply is made from laminations of birch veneer. It is light but strong and has many other good properties. Birch ply is used to make longboards, giving it a strong yet flexy ride. It is also used for making model aircraft.

Tonewood

Baltic Birch is among the most sought after wood in the manufacture of speaker cabinets. Birch has a natural resonance that peaks in the high and low frequencies, which are also the hardest for speakers to reproduce. This resonance compensates for the roll-off of low and high frequencies in the speakers, and evens the tone. Birch is known for having "natural EQ."

Drums are often made from Birch. Prior to the 1970s, Birch was one of the most popular drum woods. Because of the need for greater volume and midrange clarity, drums were made almost entirely from maple until recently, when advancements in live sound reinforcement and drum microphones have allowed the use of Birch in high volume situations. Birch drums have a natural boost in the high and low frequencies, which allow the drums to sound fuller.

Birch wood is sometimes used as a tonewood for semi-acoustic and acoustic guitar bodies and occasionally used for solid-body guitar bodies. Birch wood is also a common material used in mallets for keyboard percussion.

Medicinal uses

In northern latitudes birch is considered to be the most important allergenic tree pollen, with an estimated 15-20% of hay fever sufferers sensitive to birch pollen grains.

The chaga mushroom is an adaptogen that grows on white birch trees, extracting the birch constituents and is used as a remedy for cancer.

The bark is high in betulin and betulinic acid, phytochemicals which have potential as pharmaceuticals, and other chemicals which show promise as industrial lubricants.

Birch bark can be soaked until moist in water, and then formed into a cast for a broken arm.

Novgorod, 1240?1260

The inner bark of birch can be ingested safely.

Paper

Pieces of birch bark used like paper, for a document writing. Birch bark documents existed in several cultures.

Culture

The birch is considered a national tree of Russia, where it used to be worshipped as a goddess during the Green Week in early June.

The birch tree is also New Hampshire's state tree.

Birch trees are associated with the T�r na n�g, the land of the dead and the Sidhe, in Gaelic folklore, and as such frequently appear in Scottish, Irish, and English folksongs and ballads in association with death, or fairies, or returning from the grave.



birch: Published with permission from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia