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Betula (Birch)


A genus of Cupuliferae, widely distributed through the northern hemisphere, composed of trees and shrubs, the best known example being the common Silver Birch. The Birches are, as a rule, remarkable for their graceful habit, the secondary branches being slender and pendent, some forms of the common Birch vying with the Weeping Willow for grace and beauty of outline. Many of the Birches, too, are well worth planting for their picturesque trunks, the white, or in some instances reddish, bark standing out conspicuously among other trees, especially in winter.

Although the Birches prefer a rich loamy soil, they, more particularly the common ones, will thrive well in shallow soil of an inferior character. The common Birch is valuable for planting in exposed places. Propagation is usually effected by seeds, the varieties being grafted. The Birches will not stand much pruning after they are ten years of age.

B. alba, the common Birch, is widely distributed through the northern hemisphere, and is found wild in Britain. It makes an elegant tree from 20 to 60 feet high, and has silvery bark. The leaves turn yellow in autumn. There are many varieties, of which pendula, the Weeping Birch, and p. Youngii, Young's Weeping Birch, with pendulous branches; latifolia, with large leaves ; and urticifolia, with laciniated foliage, are worth growing.

B. Ermani is a Japanese Birch introduced ten or twelve years ago. It is a strong grower, with large leaves and greyish brown bark; it is stiffer in habit than our common Birch.

B. humilis is found in many parts of the northern hemisphere. It forms a bush 6 or 8 feet high, and was introduced in 1818.

B. lenta is the Cherry Birch of North America; it has cordate or ovate serrated leaves, grows 60 to 70 feet high, and was introduced in 1759.

B. lutea, the Yellow Birch, introduced from North America in 1767, has leaves 3 to 4 inches long, oval and deeply serrated. The wood is yellow, and the tree grows to a height of 70 or 80 feet.

B. Maximowiczii is a recent introduction from Japan. It has the largest leaves of any of the species, and bids fair to become a very ornamental plant.

B. nana is a dwarf shrub suitable for the rockery.

B. nigra, the Red Birch of the United States, came to us in 1736. It grows to a height of 60 or 70 feet, and has reddish bark which peels off in thin papery pieces.

B. papyrifera is the Canoe or Paper Birch of North America. It makes a tree 70 feet high, of ornamental outline, and was introduced in 1750.

B. ulmifolia is an ornamental silver barked Birch from Japan.

In addition to these there are many other species.