The birches are a well-loved genus of hardy medium-sized trees, much valued for their elegance of habit and for the striking effects created by the silvery-white or orange-brown bark of trunk and branches. Those species or varieties with light, narrow heads are often planted quite closely in groups to give a multi-stemmed effect. Soft golden autumn colour of leaf is a further feature of many species.
Although ultimately a tall tree, Betula ermanii, a handsome species from north eastern Asia, is, with careful siting, truly magnificent in the garden from quite an early age. The trunk has cream or pink-tinted peeling bark while the upright-spreading branches are a glistening orange brown. Species with similar qualities of effectively peeling bark, making fine specimen trees, are B. costata with cream-white bark and B. jacquemontii, a west Himalayan species with vivid white trunk and branches.
The common silver birch or lady of the woods, B. pendula, is one of the most attractive of the European native species but trees raised from seed can be variable in the quality of their silver-white trunks and in the size and spread of head. In small gardens, the species is perhaps best represented by its selected forms though the type tree is excellent for small copses or where multi-stemmed effects are required. B.p. Dalecarlica, the Swedish birch, is remarkable as much for its slender, graceful, drooping habit and finely cut leaves as for its silvery-white trunk. B.p. Tristis makes a fine, narrow-headed, white-trunked, tall tree with pendulous branches and is of more robust constitution than the Swedish birch. B.p. Youngii, Young’s weeping birch, forms a small, mushroom-headed garden tree with branches weeping to the ground.