Most birch trees are known for their white bark.
Birches are trees of the genus Betula, native to the northern hemisphere. There are around 40 species of birch around the world, most of which are found in lowlands such as river valleys. These trees have a variety of economic uses, ranging from cabinetry materials to food ingredients, and birch trees are also used in landscaping in some regions of the world.
All birch trees look more or less the same, with the main physical difference between birch trees being the color of their bark and their growth habits. The tallest trees can reach heights of 70 feet (21 meters), and some species known as “crying birch” have long branches that bend downwards with age. The birch leaves are simple and serrated, and the bark is very scaly and papery. Some well-known birch species include: red birch, white birch, silver birch, black birch, and yellow birch, all named after the color of their bark.
The bark of birch trees is actually so much like paper that some cultures have used it to make paper. Raw birch bark can be easily and gently removed from trees without damaging them and used to make paper, and the bark and wood can also be pulped for papermaking. Most birch trees also have very strong and light wood with a fine grain that is attractive to people in the construction industry, and birch is particularly prized for instruments and loudspeakers thanks to its resonance.
These trees are deciduous, losing their trees in winter, and prefer loamy, slightly acidic soil near riverbanks. Birch trees can thrive in environments where other plants struggle to survive and tend to take over if given free rein. As long as the trees get enough sunlight and water, they will develop into strong, healthy specimens.
Birch bark has historically been used in teas and tisanes, and the birthing sap can be made into a type of beer. The oil extracted from birch trees can be used to condition a wide variety of woods, along with leather, and fermented birch leaves were once used to condition navigation equipment in northern Europe. Several species of birch have been cultivated to create ornamental cultivars with bark or foliage that are particularly interesting for gardening, and these cultivars are sometimes available at nurseries and garden stores.