Betula Sp. - Birch

Family: Betulaceae (Birch family) [E-flora]

Local Species;


Key to Betula

Another cultivated European species that sometimes escapes is B. pubescens, silver birch. Its leaf blades are shaped like those of B. pendula, but the undersides are hairy. [PWOBC]

"It is interesting and somewhat surprising in this regard that smoothbarked trees such as Betula and Fagus have the lowest transpirational rates and those with fissured bark such as Quercus and Pinus have the highest transpirational rates (Geurten, 1950)." [Ahmadjian Lichens]

"The genus Betula probably has its ongm in the NE of Asia and consists of about 60 species [20]. The birch species are widely distributed over the Northern Hemisphere, but they are limited to the temperate and arctic zones." [Ahuja MWP]

"Four birch species are native to Europe. Two of them -Betula pendula (Roth) and Betula pubescens (Ehrh) - are tree forms and the others - Betula nana (L) and Betula humulis (Schrank) - are bush forms. The birch species are well known for their peculiar bark, striking trunks and graceful branches, which make them valuable as garden trees." [Ahuja MWP]



Food Uses:

Birch Sap

Other Uses

"Betula papyrifera Marsh. ssp. humilis (Regel) Hult. (paper birch, aat'oo). Outer paper birch bark (k'ii) is peeled from trees and dried for tinder. Bark is collected, usually during the week of 10 June, and made into birchbark baskets (k'ii tyah). Formerly, these baskets were food storage containers, especially for meat and berries, but today they are mostly ornaments and sold to tourists. Food was placed in the basket which was sewn shut with a birchbark lid and spruce root ties, and stored in cold rooms dug into the soil. Canoes (k'ii tr'ih) were formerly constructed of birchbark. Large rectangular sheets of bark (ca. 30-60 cm) were sewn together to form kneeling pads and cushions for the canoe. Birchbark sewn with spruce roots was used to make backpack-type baby carriers. Moose and bird calls were made from pieces of rolled birchbark, ca. 30-45 cm long. Because of its strength and flexibility, birch wood was preferred for making spears, bows and arrows, snowshoes, sleds, and toboggans. It was also carved into large spoon-like ice-removal scoops used in trapping beaver. (No. 900)." [Holloway&Alexander, 1990]

Medicinal Use



Betula Sp;
"Analgesic (1; FAD); Antibacterial (1; PH2); Antiinflammatory (1; FAD; SHT); Antimelanomic (1; APA); Antipyretic (1; PHR; PH2); Antiseptic (1; APA); Aquaretic (1; SHT); Astringent (1; PNC); Counterirritant (1; FAD); Depurative (f; APA; PHR; PH2); Diuretic (2; APA; KOM; PIP; PH2); Parasiticide (1; PHR; PH2); Saluretic (1; PHR; PH2)." [HMH Duke]

"Alnus incana and A. viridis (Betulaceae) extracts exhibited significant cytotoxic effects toward HeLa cells, with IC50 values ranging from 26.02 to 68.5 Pg/ml (SteviÄ et al. 2010). Both species are used in folk medicine of Serbia in the form of infusion for the treatment of gastrointestinal and skin diseases." [Cho MMVC]

Diuretic: "Herbal diuretics probably work better in combination than singly. One animal study that investigated this issue found a combination of several mild diuretic herbal extracts (corn silk combined with Betula pubescens [birch] leaf, Crataegus laevigata [hawthorn] fruit, Fragaria vesca [strawberry] leaf, Matricaria recutita [chamomile] flower, and horse tail herb) superior to either horse tail by itself or hydrochlorothiazide.44" [CBMed]

Tar: "The aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons in birch tar are irritating to die skin and have an antiparasitic effect. Its use for diverse skin conditions and for parasitic infestation such as scabies seems plausible." [PDR]

"Tars have been used for centuries to treat psoriasis. Tars derived from birch (Betula spp.), beech (Fagus spp.), or juniper (Juniperus spp.) trees (van Wyk and Wink 2004) are antipruritic and antiproliferative. They are used in a 5–10% concentration in creams, gels, and soaps. They are photosensitizing compounds, so judicious exposure to sunlight can be benefcial, or they can be used in conjunction with ultraviolet B (UV-B; 250–320 nm) or narrowband UV-B (311 nm)." [Benzie HM]

Birch Bark Horn

“Ethnobotanists often mention the use of plant materials to make musical instruments, yet seldom explore the importance of these artefacts A look into the history of three instruments in Kew's Economic Botany Collections provides some fascinating details about the folk music of Europe. Made before the turn of the 20th century in Switzerland, Norway, and Finland, each one has a birch (Betula sp ) component and, more importantly, represents a key element in a folk music tradition.
Traditionally, Swiss herdsmen also relied on these instruments to signal danger and communicate with other herdsmen (Gelser 1976). Biachels were made of three pieces of spruce (Picea sp.) or poplar (Populus sp), each piece cut in half length-wise and painstakingly hollowed out, then glued back together. The three sections were joined and, In the early summer when the sap was rising, a strip of birch bark was wound directly around the bare wooden tube (Gelser 1976) This wrapping not only helped to hold the pieces together but prevented the wood from splitting and causing air leaks which would result in poor sound quality (William Hopson pers. comm.)” [BirchHorns]

Industrial Uses

"Several features of birch wood make it very useful for veneer and plywood production. According to the prognosis of FAO the veneer production in Europe will increase by 3-4% per year. Most of the pulpwood produced from birch is used in the cellulose industry. However, high quality semi-chemical pulpwood can be produced because of the relative stability of its hemicellulose and the low lignin content. The fuel value of birch is high, thus constituting a great potential as a source of energy. Birch can also be used in the furniture industry, for the production of fiber boards and several chemical and biochemical products as rosin, cattle food, acetone and glycerol." [Ahuja MWP]

Commercial Uses


B. papyrifera; "One elder, Rita Blumenstein of Anchorage, said the inner bark can be used to treat cancer. The bark is gathered in May, before the tree gets its leaves. It should be scraped, dried and crushed into a powder. One teaspoon is boiled for three minutes with eight cups of water in a non-aluminum pot. After cooling the decoction, one should drink 1/3 of a cup three times a day, with a meal, in the morning, at noon and at night, for 16 days. The whole procedure can be repeated as needed. However, Rita warned that it should not be combined with chemotherapy. To store the medicine, strain it with cheesecloth and put it in the refrigerator. The same preparation can also be used in a steam bath to treat asthma." [Jernigan EYK]


"A short-term freezing treatment during the chilling period also promotes dormancy release in two birch species ( Betula pubescens and Betula pendula) (Rinne et al. 1997, 2001)." [Anderson APD]


"Birch is generally propagated via seeds. The limitations of sexual reproduction are seed crop failure, low germination rate and genetically non-uniform offspring. Vegetative propagation has been practised in the selection of mother trees for breeding programs and the establishment of seed orchards with controlled pollination. Various methods of vegetative propagation have been used, such as budding, grafting and rooting of cuttings. However, many problems are associated with vegetative propagation." [Ahuja MWP]

Uses of Non-local Species

Additional Notes

"The genus Betula is known for its prolific hybridization that has resulted in difficult to identify hybrid swarms (Brayshaw 1996)." [E-flora]

Caterpillar Host Plant:

Ant Host Plant:

Jounrnals of Interest

Betula Pendula - European Birch

[IFBC-E-flora] [E-flora]


Habitat / Range Bogs or marshes in the lowland zone; frequent horticultural escape in the lower Fraser Valley, less common on extreme SE Vancouver Island; introduced from Eurasia.

General: Deciduous tree, 10-30 m tall; bark thick, rough, dark brown, furrowed, often peeling; twigs glandular, numerous small glands, sometimes sticky; branch ends often drooping. [IFBC-E-flora]

Betula pendula is an introduced European tree species that is now found in North America. In the US, it is reported from CO, CT, IA, IL, IN, KY, MA, ME, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, OR, PA, VA, VT, WA, WI, and, in Canada, it is reported from BC, MB, NB, NS, ON, PE (USDA 2010). In British Columbia, it is found in the southwestern corner of the province, and is well established in the Fraser River delta where it has heavily invaded bogs and is widespread. Like other birches, it hybridizes readily, and can produce hybrid swarms. It is tolerant of acid wet conditions and will grow in brackish water (Klinkenberg, personal observation). The earliest specimen record for this species in the UBC Herbarium is a collection from the Fraser River delta by Vladimir Krajina in 1948, from the Lulu Island Bog. References: USDA. 2010. Plant profile for Betula pendula. United States Department of Agriculture. Available Online.[E-flora]

Betula occidentalis - Water Birch

[IFBC-E-flora] [E-flora]

Betula papyrifera - Paper birch

[IFBC-E-flora] [E-flora]

Betula pubescens - Silver birch

[IFBC-E-flora] [E-flora]

Betula pumila var glandulifera - Low birch

[IFBC-E-flora] [E-flora]


Page last modified on Thursday, October 4, 2018 10:09 AM