Nature Table: BIRCH

Birch (Silver Birch is Betula pendula and downy birch is Betula pubescens)

(Silver Birch is Betula pendula and downy birch is Betula pubescens)

Irish native trees seldom produce the strident autumn colours of species that have evolved in harsher climates but the muted browns and yellows of birch woodland at this time of year have a subtle beauty.

There are two native species of birch and several cultivated varieties that are widely planted in gardens and parks and as street trees. The two natives are silver birch and downy birch. There are small differences in the shape of the leaves, the bark patterns and the way the twigs droop (silver birch is Betula pendula, indicating that it is pendulous or drooping, rather like a weeping willow).

However the two species have an overlapping range, though downy birch is commoner fringing midland bogs and silver birch more dominant in upland places, and they hybridise readily so identification in the field is often difficult or impossible.

The timber, used in veneers, furniture and flooring, is attractive but seldom exploited in Ireland, where birch is mainly used to provide the brushwood to construct hurdles in horse racing.


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