White Birch

Image of White Birch trees

White Birch

Betula papyrifera (Paper Birch, also known as White Birch and Canoe Birch) is a species of birch native to northern North America. It is the provincial tree of Saskatchewan and the state tree of New Hampshire.

White Birch has a wide range. It is found in the interior and south central Alaska and in all provinces and territories of Canada as well as the northern continental United States.

It is a medium sized deciduous tree reaching 18 m tall and exceptionally to 40 m with a trunk up to 0.8 m in diameter. They can live to about 140 years of age. The bark is white, commonly brightly so, flaking in fine horizontal strips, and often with small black marks and scars. The leaves are alternate, ovate 1-5 in long and 2-4 in broad, with a doubly serrate margin. The leaf buds are conical and small. They are green coloured with brown edges. The flowers are wind pollinated catkins, 1.5 in long growing from the tips of the twigs. The fruit matures in the fall. The mature fruit is composed of numerous tiny winged seeds packed between the catkin bracts. They drop between September and spring.

Paper Birch handles heat and humidity poorly and may only live 30 years in warmer climate, while trees in colder climate regions can exceed 50 years and grow to much larger sizes.

Paper Birch is a pioneer species meaning it is one of the first trees to establish after a forest fire of clearing of a woodlot. It requires high nutrients and sun exposure. The bark is highly weather resistant. Often the wood of the downed paper birch will rot away leaving the hollow bark intact. Birch bark is a winter staple for moose and deer.

Paper Birch has a soft yet moderately heavy, white wood. It makes excellent high yielding firewood if seasoned proper. Its bark is an excellent fire starter, it ignites at high temperatures even when wet.

While a paper birch does not have very high overall economic value, it is used in furniture, flooring, popsicle sticks and oriented strand board. Panels of bark can be fitted or sewn together to make canoes, cartons, and boxes.