Tree of the month: Birch

Last night the moon was new so according to this version of the Ogham ‘tree calendar’ extended into 2013, we’re now in the Month of the Birch. You might choose to follow my ‘ogham’ tag for other posts in this series.

The ancient Celts used their Ogham alphabet for various purposes but they don’t seem to have associated a calendar with it. That use of the Ogham is a 19th century invention! I like this calendar, though. It directs attention to a different species for each lunar month. So today, let’s admire the birch.

Here in Britain three birch species are native. Two of those are known as the Lady of the Woods. She’s widespread throughout the British Isles as the downy birch (Betula pubescens) and the silver birch (Betula pendula). Birch woodlands are particularly common in our uplands where these trees can survive the relatively harsh conditions.

I don’t know which birch species the ancient Celts preferred. Perhaps it depended on whether people lived on wet soil (B. pubescens) or dry soil (B. pendula). If they lived in the Scottish Highlands they’ll have known the third native birch species, the dwarf birch (Betula nana).

Trees for Life tells us how B. pubescens and B. pendula differ. The Royal Forestry Society tells us about the beauty of the birches and about how the species can’t resist one another: they hybridise a lot.

I have a soft spot for B. pendula because one of my grandfathers lived in a house called Silver Birch after the noble tree on its front lawn. He was a keen gardener, as was my other grandfather, and each of them had a few acres of land where my interests in ecology and horticulture grew.

Birches are pioneer species. Once they’ve colonised land, other trees follow within a few years. But even before that happens, fungi such as the birch polyphore (Piptoporus betulinus) (photographed by my fellow blogger John Harris) can be found on the tree trunks. Indeed, birch woodland supports many fungi as well as insects and birds (scroll down for the section on birch woodland). The Lady of the Woods is a benevolent lady, isn’t she? Martin Blount of Treespirit tells us some of the many uses of birch.


About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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4 Responses to Tree of the month: Birch

  1. Rachel says:

    I love that name, the lady of the woods. It is very apt for such a beautiful and graceful tree.

  2. One of my favourite habitats is sandy heathland – the birch looks wonderful in the winter with the sun shining on the bark

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