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Betula pendula - Roth.

Common Name Silver Birch, European white birch, Common Birch, Warty Birch, European White Birch
Family Betulaceae
USDA hardiness 2-6
Known Hazards The aromatic and aliphatic hydrocarbons in birch tar are irritating to the skin. Do not use in patients with oedema or with poor kidney or heart functions [301]
Habitats Open woodland and heaths[17, 100]. Rarely found on chalk[17].
Range Most of Europe, including Britain, south and east to Morocco, W. Siberia and central Asia.
Edibility Rating    (3 of 5)
Other Uses    (5 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (3 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun
Betula pendula Silver Birch, European white birch, Common Birch, Warty Birch, European White  Birch

Betula pendula Silver Birch, European white birch, Common Birch, Warty Birch, European White  Birch


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Bloom Color: Brown. Main Bloom Time: Early spring, Late spring, Mid spring.Form: Oval, Pyramidal, Weeping.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of lolypop
Betula pendula is a deciduous Tree growing to 20 m (65ft) by 10 m (32ft) at a fast rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 2. It is in flower in April, and the seeds ripen from July to August. The species is monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and is pollinated by Wind.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in heavy clay and nutritionally poor soils. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in very acid soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Betula alba var. pendula (Roth) W.T.Aiton

Plant Habitats

Woodland Garden Canopy; Secondary; Sunny Edge;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Flowers  Inner bark  Leaves  Sap
Edible Uses: Tea

Inner bark - cooked or dried and ground into a meal[2, 15, 105]. It can be added as a thickener to soups etc or can be mixed with flour for making bread, biscuits etc. Inner bark is generally only seen as a famine food, used when other forms of starch are not available or are in short supply[115, 177, K]. Sap - raw or cooked. A sweet flavour. It is harvested in early spring, before the leaves unfurl, by tapping the trunk. It makes a pleasant drink[115]. It is often concentrated into a syrup by boiling off the water[2, 9, 13, 15, 177]. Between 4 and 7 litres can be drawn off a mature tree in a day and this will not kill the tree so long as the tap hole is filled up afterwards[115]. However, prolonged or heavy tapping will kill the tree[115]. The flow is best on sunny days following a frost. The sap can be fermented into a beer. An old English recipe for the beer is as follows:- "To every Gallon of Birch-water put a quart of Honey, well stirr'd together; then boil it almost an hour with a few Cloves, and a little Limon-peel, keeping it well scumm'd. When it is sufficiently boil'd, and become cold, add to it three or four Spoonfuls of good Ale to make it work...and when the Test begins to settle, bottle it up . . . it is gentle, and very harmless in operation within the body, and exceedingly sharpens the Appetite, being drunk ante pastum."[269]. Young leaves - raw or cooked[15]. Young catkins[15]. No more details are given. A tea is made from the leaves[15, 161] and another tea is made from the essential oil in the inner bark[21].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Anticholesterolemic  Antiinflammatory  Antirheumatic  Antiseborrheic  Antiseptic  Astringent  Bitter  Cholagogue  
Diaphoretic  Diuretic  Eczema  Laxative  Lithontripic  Miscellany  Skin  

Anti-inflammatory, cholagogue, diaphoretic[21, 165, 201]. The bark is diuretic and laxative[7]. An oil obtained from the inner bark is astringent and is used in the treatment of various skin afflictions, especially eczema and psoriasis[4, 238]. The bark is usually obtained from trees that have been felled for timber and can be distilled at any time of the year[238]. The inner bark is bitter and astringent, it is used in treating intermittent fevers[4]. The vernal sap is diuretic[4]. The buds are balsamic[7]. The young shoots and leaves secrete a resinous substance which has acid properties, when combined with alkalis it is a tonic laxative[4]. The leaves are anticholesterolemic and diuretic[7]. They also contain phytosides, which are effective germicides[7]. An infusion of the leaves is used in the treatment of gout, dropsy and rheumatism, and is recommended as a reliable solvent of kidney stones[4]. The young leaves and leaf buds are harvested in the spring and dried for later use[238]. A decoction of the leaves and bark is used for bathing skin eruptions[4]. Moxa is made from the yellow fungous excrescences of the wood, which sometimes swell out of the fissures[4]. The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Betula species for infections of the urinary tract, kidney and bladder stones, rheumatism (see [302] for critics of commission E).

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Adhesive  Besom  Charcoal  Compost  Dye  Essential  Fibre  Fungicide  Hair  Miscellany  Paper  Pioneer  Polish  Repellent  Tannin  Thatching  Waterproofing  Wood

The bark is used to make drinking vessels, canoe skins, roofing tiles etc[115]. It is waterproof, durable, tough and resinous. Only the outer bark is removed, this does not kill the tree. It is most easily removed in late spring to early summer. A pioneer species, it readily invades old fields, cleared or burnt-over land and creates conditions suitable for other woodland trees to become established. Since it is relatively short-lived and intolerant of shade, it is eventually out-competed by these trees[17, 186]. A tar-oil is obtained from the white bark in spring. It has fungicidal properties and is also used as an insect repellent[4, 13, 100]. It makes a good shoe polish[61]. Another report says that an essential oil is obtained from the bark and this, called 'Russian Leather' has been used as a perfume[245]. A decoction of the inner bark is used to preserve cordage[115], it contains up to 16% tannin[178, 223]. An oil similar to Wintergreen oil (obtained from Gaultheria procumbens) is obtained from the inner bark[21, 61]. It is used medicinally and also makes a refreshing tea[21]. The resin glands (the report does not say where these glands are found) are used to make a hair lotion[226]. A brown dye is obtained from the inner bark A glue is made from the sap[2, 9, 13, 15]. Cordage can be made from the fibres of the inner bark[115]. This inner bark can also be separated into thin layers and used as a substitute for oiled paper[4]. The young branches are very flexible and are used to make whisks, besoms etc[6]. They are also used in thatching[13, 100] and to make wattles[4]. The leaves are a good addition to the compost heap, improving fermentation[14]. Wood - soft, light, durable. It is used for a wide range of purposes including furniture, tool handles, toys and carving[13, 100, 238]. A high quality charcoal is obtained from the bark. It is used by artists, painters etc[13]. The wood is also pulped and used for making paper[238].

Special Uses

Attracts Wildlife  Dynamic accumulator  Food Forest  Scented Plants

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Landscape Uses:Firewood, Specimen. A very easily grown plant, it tolerates most soils including poor ones[1, 24], sandy soils[188] and heavy clays. It prefers a well-drained loamy soil in a sunny position[11, 200]. It is occasionally found on calcareous soils in the wild but it generally prefers a pH below 6.5, doing well on acid soils[186]. Fairly wind tolerant[200] though it becomes wind shaped when exposed to strong winds[K]. The silver birch is a very ornamental tree[1] with many named varieties[11, 200]. It also has a very wide range of economic uses. It is a fast growing tree, increasing by up to 1 metre a year, but is short-lived[17, 200]. It is often one of the first trees to colonize open land and it creates a suitable environment for other woodland trees to follow[17]. These trees eventually out-compete and shade out the birch trees[17, 186]. It makes an excellent nurse tree for seedling trees, though its fine branches can cause damage to nearby trees when blown into them by the wind. Trees take about 15 years from seed to produce their own seed[98]. Although closely related, it does not usually hybridize with B. pubescens[11]. It often hybridizes with B. pubescens according to another report[186]. A superb tree for encouraging wildlife, it has 229 associated insect species[24]. A good plant to grow near the compost heap, aiding the fermentation process[14, 20]. It is also a good companion plant, its root action working to improve the soil[14]. Trees are notably susceptible to honey fungus[200]. Special Features: Not North American native, Attractive flowers or blooms.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a light position in a cold frame[78, 80, 113, 134]. Only just cover the seed and place the pot in a sunny position[78, 80, 134]. Spring sown seed should be surface sown in a sunny position in a cold frame[113, 134]. If the germination is poor, raising the temperature by covering the seed with glass can help[134]. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a cold frame for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. If you have sufficient seed, it can be sown in an outdoor seedbed, either as soon as it is ripe or in the early spring - do not cover the spring sown seed. Grow the plants on in the seedbed for 2 years before planting them out into their permanent positions in the winter[78, 80, 113, 134].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Native Range

TEMPERATE ASIA: Iran (north), Iraq (north), Turkey, Russian Federation-Western Siberia (Western Siberia), Russian Federation (Buryatia, Chita, Yakutia-Sakha), Kazakhstan (north), Mongolia, Russian Federation (Primorye, Amur, Kamcatskij kraj, Magadanskaja oblast, Sakhalin), China (Gansu Sheng, Hebei Sheng, Heilongjiang Sheng, Henan Sheng, Jiangsu Sheng, Jilin Sheng, Liaoning Sheng, Nei Mongol Zizhiqu, Ningxia Huizi Zizhiqu, Qinghai Sheng, Shaanxi Sheng, Shanxi Sheng, Sichuan Sheng (west), Xinjiang Uygur Zizhiqu (north), Xizang Zizhiqu (southeast), Yunnan Sheng (north)), Japan (Hokkaidô, Honshu), Korea, North NORTHERN AMERICA: Canada (Yukon, Ontario (west), Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, British Columbia), United States (Alaska) EUROPE: Denmark, Finland, United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Russian Federation (European part), Ukraine (incl. Krym), Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Croatia, Italy (incl. Sicily), North Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, France (incl. Corsica) AFRICA: Morocco (north)

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

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Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Readers comment

Robert Cowe   Mon Sep 11 2006

Can you direct me towards a supplier of silver birch sap please.

brian heaney   Tue Jul 17 2007

does anyone have pictures of the tree being used in all the ways above? like how to take the bark off, and how to obtaine the oil from the bark, and how to tapp the tree, the name of tools to do the tapping? thank you,

18Delta   Wed Oct 24 2007

dont have photos but I believe I can shine some light here: 1 - stripping the bark is the easiest (only possible?) in the early spring, when sap has started to flow 2 - this 'oil' is actually tar. you need lots of birch bark which you put into a metal container, and under that metal container you need to put another one (smaller) to where the tar will flow. logically, you will need to puncture a hole in the container above. make sure both containers are well sealed. light a fire all around the container with birch bark and let it burn for at least an hour. 3 - tap the tree in the early spring, that is the only time when its possible to obtain the sugary birch liquid. drill a small whole into the trunk about 0,5m from the ground. afterwords you will need to find a suitable piece of wood to put in the drilled hole so that the tree can heal faster and resist bacteria and fungal diseases. dont do this often, it will destroy the tree.

Carl. be good to the Earth   Sat Jan 12 2008

Both European Birches are exelent for Bow Drill Fire Making.The Catkins boiled up make a strange but nice tea.

Wildwood Survival good for becoming a part of the Forest

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