The birch, common name for betula, belonging to the Betulaceae family, is a tree with an important aesthetic value, particularly appreciated even by those who have little space available to cultivate. The plant generally has rapid growth and in a few years manages to develop in a proportionate and harmonious way, in the trunk as in the crown, almost always avoiding difficult phases in cultivation as regards the periods of youth. Much appreciated, among its characteristics, the light shade it offers and which facilitates the cultivation of flowering plants under it. A defect found in birch is instead its short life: very rarely, in fact, it is possible to find specimens of the plant that have exceeded 60 years of age.
But as regards the remarkable aspects of its beauty it is good to remember the associated elements that the birch can boast: young branches of brown color and purple luster, as well as a bark that when it becomes stronger has pleasant silvery shades that cover the trunk of a kind of aura of light within the garden or landscape. Later, as the years go by, the lower part of the trunk may have a bark with dark patches. In spring the leaf buds, when they open, spread a pleasant aromatic smell in the air.
The birch has a collar bearing and a height that can reach 12 or 18 meters, but in more rare cases even 25 meters.
Leaves and flowers
The leaves have a dark green or olive green color at the beginning of their development, and then expand taking an oval shape. They appear dangling from thin peduncles and turn in golden tones as they fall in the autumn season.
During the spring the male catkins, which have a yellow color, revive the foliar complex. The same happens to the female catkins at the end of the summer, just before they open and drop their little seeds that will spread in the wind.
The flowers are grouped in inflorescences as regards the male specimens which are separated from the female ones, equally present in the same individual.
Cultivation and soil
Birch should preferably be sown at the beginning of March, in a special compote. When the seedlings reach a sufficient size they are to be replanted in boxes. Subsequently, they must be transplanted outdoors in the nursery and then left in the home for a time ranging from two to three years, after which they must be permanently transplanted. It is a very decorative tree, it is therefore advisable to cultivate heather or ferns near it, or other plants that do not cover the pleasant and much appreciated view of its trunk.
Birch favored soil should be loose and permeable. The rusticity of the plant however allows it to easily tolerate different types of soil, from the Mediterranean to the Alpine.
Pruning is to be done on young specimens to give them the most desired shapes, taking into account that the average growth of the plant is around 20 or 30 centimeters per year.
The birch undoubtedly prefers sunny locations, but it resists without difficulty even in cold climates. Not infrequently it also grows in the Alps, at the edge of the tree vegetation.
An important danger for the tree is represented by the polyporus, a fungus called “shelf”, which can insert itself between the wounds of the bark causing wood rot.
It is often employed in parks and gardens, in groups or isolated, for its appreciated ornamental characters and the pleasant shade provided, but also for the excellent ability to resist urban pollution.
Some birches, especially Scandinavian or Canadian, make excellent wood for plywood. They are also often used for furniture and, once upon a time, also for craft materials for the kitchen, such as plates or wooden spoons.
Most common species of birch are the pendulous birch, with small bumps on the twigs. The warty birch, with split leaves found on hanging branches. The papyrus birch, or paper birch, with white bark that peels off in strips. Birch ermanii, more ornamental type, with white trunk and brown and orange branches. Betula utilis, with sparse oval-shaped foliage, heart-shaped leaves and olive brown bark, very ornamental. Betula albosinensis, small in size (6-8 meters high), with a pyramidal crown.