The birch is a tree of the northern hemisphere and its several species are distributed throughout Europe, America and Asia. Most common on the Continent is the silver birch growing in the wild from Italy to the Balkan Peninsula, northwards beyond the Arctic Circle and eastwards far into Siberia. In central Europe it is plentiful from lowland to foothill elevations.
It attains heights of 20 to 25 metres and develops a slim bole topped with a crown of slender, pendent branches. It has a fairly short life span, attaining an age of 100 to 200 years. The twigs are covered with waxy warts. The bark is white and smooth, becoming blackish and fissured at the base. The flowers appear in April, and the fruits mature in June, being gradually dispersed great distances by the wind until the onset of winter. This, plus the fact that the tree grows well even on poor soils, makes it an important colonist of forest clearings, pastures and fallow land. The silver birch is a light-demanding species and stands up well to both frost and the sun’s heat. The white trunk and fresh green of its spring foliage make it an ornamental element in the landscape.
The hard, tough and flexible wood is used for interior woodwork, for wheels and also as fuel. The sap is used by the cosmetic industry, and the bark for dressing skins.
Leaves: Alternate, triangular ovate, 2.5—6 cm long, with double serrate margins. Flowers: Male and female in separate catkins. Fruit: Winged, 2 mm long, borne in 2—3 cm long catkin-like “cones” with scale-like bracts.