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birch, common name for some members of the Betulaceae, a family of deciduous trees or shrubs bearing male and female flowers on separate plants, widely distributed in the Northern Hemisphere. They are valued for their hardwood lumber and edible fruits and as ornamental trees. The species of Betulaceae native to the United States represent five genera—Alnus (alder), Betula (the birches), Corylus (hazel), and Carpinus (hornbeam) and Ostrya (hop hornbeam), both also called ironwood. The sixth genus, Ostryopsis, is restricted to Mongolia. The birches, beautiful bushes or trees of temperate and arctic regions, are often found mingled with evergreens in northern coniferous forests. Most American species are trees of the Northeast; a few smaller and scrub species grow in the West. The close-grained hardwood of several of the trees is valued for furniture, flooring, and similar uses (in America, particularly that of the yellow birch, B. lutea); stained birch provides much of the so-called mahogany of lower-priced furniture. White-barked birches are often used as ornamental trees, e.g., the famous paper, or canoe, birch (B. papyrifera) of the N United States and Canada. Its bark, which separates in layers, was used by the Native Americans for canoes and baskets. Various birches have yielded sugar, vinegar, a tea from the leaves, and a birch beer from the sap. The sweet, or black, birch (B. lenta) is now the chief source of oil of wintergreen. The Betulaceae is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Fagales.

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A moderately strong, high-density wood, yellowish to brown in color; its uniform texture is well suited for veneer, flooring, and turned wood products. See also: Wood
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(genus Betula), deciduous monoecious trees and shrubs of the Betulaceae family. The bark of the trunk ranges in color from white to black. The leaves are sequential, simple, and petiolate. The staminate flowers, with two bifurcated stamens, are gathered in hanging catkins, which in summer are formed at the ends of annual shoots. Pistillate flowers without perianths, usually in threes (in dichasia) in axils of bracteal husks, are gathered in single catkins, which are displayed in the spring of the year, when they blossom in axils of young leaflets. The birch tree blooms in early spring, almost simultaneously with the opening of the leaves. The fruit is one-seeded, nutlike, flat, and two-winged. Seeds ripen in the summer or fall. The birch tree generally grows rapidly, particularly when it is young. It readily populates areas in which other vegetation does not exist and is often a pioneer species.

There are about 100 (more, by some data) polymorphous species growing in the temperate and cool regions of the northern hemisphere and the mountains of the subtropics; there are about 50 species in the USSR. Many birches are economically important—the valuable lumber-forming and decorative species, particularly the European white birch (Betula pendula or B. verrucosa), the Old World white birch (B. pubescens), the flat-leaf birch (B. platyphylla), the ribbed, or yellow, birch (B. costata), and the Schmidt, or iron, birch (B. Schmidtii). Most species of birch require light, are quite drought- and frost-resistant, and grow in many types of soil. The lumber and bark of many birch species are used in various sectors of the economy. The buds and leaves of the European white birch and Old World white birch are used for medicinal purposes. The buds, which contain 3.5–6 percent essential oil, are sometimes used in infusions as a diuretic and externally as a massage for aches in joints. The most prevalent species of birch is the European white birch. Trees reach 25 m in height and 80 cm in diameter. Birches tolerate a certain amount of salinization of the soil and aridity of the air; they live to 150 years and more. They are observed to 65° N lat. in Western Europe; in the USSR, they are found throughout nearly the entire forest and forest-steppe zone of the European part, western Siberia, Transbaikal, Saiany, Altai, and the Caucasus. Birches grow in combination with coniferous and deciduous varieties. In some places they form vast birch forests; and in the forest-steppe zone of the Trans-Volga Region and western Siberia, they form the so-called birch groves, which alternate with fields and steppe areas. Birches are used as field-protecting strips and as decoration. The lumber is prized for furniture production; it is used for veneer and various articles.


Derev’ia i kustarniki SSSR, vol. 2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1951.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


The common name for all deciduous trees of the genus Betula that compose the family Betulaceae in the order Fagales.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


A moderately strong, high-density wood of North America and northern Europe, yellowish white to brown in color; its uniform texture and figure are well suited for veneer, flooring, and turned wood products.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. any betulaceous tree or shrub of the genus Betula, having thin peeling bark
2. the hard close-grained wood of any of these trees
3. of, relating to, or belonging to the birch
4. consisting or made of birch
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Paper birch (Betula papyrifera Marsh.) is currently becoming an interesting alternative to the high-value species traditionally transformed by the sawmilling industry in Quebec (Canada).
Paper birch, (Betula papyrifera) also known as white birch, canoe birch and mother tree, grows predominantly in the northern and western United States.
Tree Species/ Lichen Species Substrate Amandinea Amandinea dakotensis punctata Acer negundo Acer platanoides Acer saccharinum X Acer saccharum Betula papyrifera Carya ovata Catalpa speciosa Celtis occidentalis Crataegus crus-galli Crataegus mollis Fagus species Fraxinus americana Fraxinus quadrangulata Fraxinus pennsylvanica var.
Upland spruce forest includes stands of balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) and paper birch (Betula papyrifera).
Phagos Beech Fagus sylvaticus OGHAM CANADIAN PRAIRIES MEANING Beith Paper Birch New beginnings; healing Betula papyrifera Luis Tamarac Controlling your life; Larix lariciana protection against enchantment Nuin Green Ash Binding; marriage of (Nion) Fraxinus pennsylvanica opposites; mental clarity Fearn Box, Maple Divination; Acer negundo spiritual guidance Saille Willow Gaining of balance; love; Salix amygdeloides magic; psychic abilities Huathe Hawthorn Guardian; restriction Crataegus oxycantho ides Duir Bur Oak Security; strength; courage; Quecus macrocarpus protection Tinne Elm Spiritual guidance; clarity of Ulmus americana mind and wisdom Coll Hazel Creative energy; individuality; Coryllus americana intuition Quert Applecrab Choices; destiny; wholeness Malus spp.
More recently, scientists at NaturNorth Technologies of Duluth, Minnesota, have been investigating the medicinal properties of betulin, a powdery substance that occurs in the bark of the white paper birch tree (Betula papyrifera).
In 2001-02, we conducted a field study in Wooster, OH to determine the effects of 3 treatments: 1) fertilization; 2) mulching with composted yard waste; and 3) composted hardwood bark blended with composted manure on tree growth, defense chemistry (total phenolics), and insect resistance of Betula papyrifera (paper birch) planted in either topsoil or subsoil.
Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) - Easily recognized by its characteristic white and papery bark, paper birch is a slender, graceful tree found in higher elevations.
Although the stand was described as having "the characteristics of a climax stand" in 1942 (Harvard Forest, unpublished manuscript), the presence of dead Castanea dentata and Betula papyrifera suggest that it has a history of disturbance.
The macrofossil assemblage at Lac a Magie is characterized by Picea, Larix, Abies, Pinus strobus, and Betula papyrifera. The Chase Pond assemblage is characterized in the lower half of the zone by B.
Paper birch (Betula papyrifera), with bark that peels off in white sheets, grows well throughout the Northwest, the Rockies, and California's mountains.