Plant of the Week ~ Betula pendula (Silver Birch)

Betula pendula botanical art
Betula pendula botanical art

This week we are taking a look at the enchanting tree ~ Betula pendula, commonly known as Silver Birch. It is truly a sight to behold with it’s striking white bark and delicate catkins in spring. The distinct triangular-shaped green leaves turn yellow in autumn before dropping to the ground to reveal the beautiful bare trunks of white throughout winter. Sometimes referred to as ‘The Lady of the Wood’, in Celtic mythology, silver birch symbolises renewal and purification.

Cultivation & Care

Betula pendula catkins
Betula pendula catkins

Silver birches are a very easy to grow plant, tolerant of most soils including heavy clay, sandy and nutrient poor soils. Well-drained, loamy soil in a sunny position is ideal, but birches are very adaptable. They will tolerate windy locations, however strong winds will cause the tree to be wind shaped as it grows.

Interesting Facts

  • Known as a pioneer species, meaning it is one of the first trees to grow in an area of bare land and can do so quite quickly and effectively.
  • They can be used to improve soil quality as the roots bring up nutrients from deep within the soil which are usually inaccessible. These nutrients then return to the surface soil when the tree leaves drop in autumn.
  • Growing silver birch near to a compost heap can aid in the fermentation process.

Edible Uses

Harvested leaves of Betula pendula
Harvested leaves of Betula pendula
  • Sap ~ The sap of this beautiful tree can be tapped as the sap rises in spring to ferment into a birch wine. The Druids of old are thought to have done this to make a cordial to celebrate the spring equinox.
  • Leaves ~ A tea can be made from young leaves using about 5 leaves per cup of water. Let them steep for at least 10 minutes before pouring.

Wildlife Uses

Goldcrest eating the buds of Betula pendula
Goldcrest eating the buds of Betula pendula
  • Provides habitat and food for over 300 species of insects
  • Invaluable food source for many species of moth caterpillars including buff-tip and Kentish glory
  • Tree dwelling species of bird such as woodpeckers, will often nest inside the trunks of these trees
  • The seeds of this tree are eaten by birds such as greenfinches & siskin

 

Wildlife & Eco Gardens can help you create a vibrant wildlife garden for you and your family to enjoy all year round. Contact us for more information.

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