Betula papyrifera

Ruth insists that we’re obligated to have photographs with plants and snow in the winter, so here’s a photograph and write-up from her:

I took this picture on a snowshoeing adventure with some friends in February 2008. The paper birch squeezing through gaps in the granite boulders is the subject species of today’s write up, though recognition should also be made to the fern and moss growing amongst this outcrop. Life finds a way.

White-barked birch trees are the light-colored relief to the dense evergreen forests of the east. In Bob Ross’ landscape paintings, he would slice through the black and green of the riverside forest with his pallet knife covered in white paint — the birch trees. Birch trees are deciduous, with vibrant yellow leaves in the autumn.

Birch trees are important culturally. First Nations used the paper birch in the area named by European colonizers as New England for millenia: Betula papyrifera was used for construction of canoes and wigwams, as well as cooking vessels, jewelry and art.

Although the paper birch occurs in many states in northern and central USA and is native to every province in Canada, in the USA it is only native to the northeastern US, parts of the Midwest, Alaska, and the northern parts of Washington, Idaho and Montana. In Canada it has a much larger native range.

Natural history resource link (added by Daniel): the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle of Paris, France — plenty of links to explore.

Betula papyrifera

20 responses to “Betula papyrifera”

  1. elizabeth a airhart

    the wind makes the paper birches
    twinkle in the sunlight and
    makes the leaves rattle and sing
    daniel i am looking at botanical prints
    by elizabeth twining 1849
    on some of the prints the name fox glove
    the fig-wort tribe or the bind-weed tribe
    morning glory
    could some one explain her word tribe
    i like it myself

  2. Millet

    Very interesting indeed. I learned something today. Thanks.

  3. plantita planton

    Ruth, what a nice photograph and write-up. I like the comments on the cultural significance of the birch.

  4. Laura Thornbrough

    I love the Bob Ross reference as much as I love the paper birch photo!

  5. vblaeuer

    hi, re: the comment on “tribe” in zoology, the term “phylum” is from a Greek word meaning “tribe”. In botany, “division” is used to mean the same thing… remember: Kingdom, Phylum (division) class, order, genus, species, happy new year, vab

  6. Meg Bernstein

    This is a familiar site to those of us who live in the Adirondack Park of New York State. We have them in our yard, but I love to see them growing over glacial erratics in the woods.

  7. Beverley

    Betula papyrifera – Z1 – RHS Index of Garden Plants, Griffiths
    Betula papyrifera – Z2-7 – A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, Brickell, Cole, Zuk
    Betula bet-ew-la the Latin name for Birch. papyrifera pa-pi-ri-fe-ra. Paper bearing, referring to the papery bark. Plant Names Simplified, Johnson and Smith and Dictionary of Plant Names, Coombes

  8. Barbara Currier Kruse

    What a nice surprise…I just finished making a
    pine needle basket from pine needles taken from
    the shore of Lake Massabesic back in October.
    Beautiful picture!!
    Simple pleasures

  9. ruth's fan club

    oh WOW ruth you’re so amazing!!! i will name my first child “Paper Birch” after you and this article. you’re an inspiration to us all!

  10. Doug

    Did you see the lizard face in the rock?

  11. Mary Miller

    “Ruth insists that we’re obligated to have photographs with plants and snow in the winter” and I’m so glad. Some of us rarely see real snow. Truthfully, I like it best in photographs, especially photographs here. Thank you from Miami.

  12. Bonnie

    Looks more like an iguana to me!
    I have been in love with birch trees forever, and especially since reading Hiawatha. A few years ago my aunt offered to take me on a canoe ride and was I ever disappointed when the canoe was not birch bark! But upon reflection I’m just as glad no tree was destroyed for this metal thing we paddled.

  13. Knox

    Having paddled a First Nations-made birch bark canoe, I can testify that it is very light and very easy to capsize due to its lack of any keel. You feel somewhat like a leaf on the surface of the water. One can remove the bark without destroying the cambian layers and/or killing the tree.

  14. John H. Humphrey

    Coming originally from Montana, I remember as a child thinking all forests consisted of evergreens and what I learned were birch bark trees. The contrast between the green and the white, particularly in winter, was very beautiful and made me realize the wonder of nature.

  15. A Jablanczy

    I dont know about moss and fern but what I see on the rocks are lichen. On this laptop everything is in various tones of grey.
    As far as tribe I dont think it is a botanical scientific name but sentimental Victorian mushy diction. Bad poets never wrote fish but called them finny tribe. Actually it goes even further back to preromantic sentimentalism.
    Cliches malapropisms cute circomlocutions abounded in droves. But what amazed me once was that Thoreau called a tree a man and of course he knew better. Maybe an extreme case of transcendentalist metempsychosis or pantheism gone wild.
    On the other hand I must confess
    that I think that trees rocks flowers have souls or perhaps aku aku.
    And now it just hit me why this is my favourite website yet why I hate the so called abstracts. Because those deprive the plant of its being in itself and being for itself. The most glorious illustration of a plant is letting it be what it is not something else.
    Here the rock is a rock and the lichen is a lichen though the birch is not fully a birch but only partially so.
    Finally to the relief of everyone Bjork is Icelandic for birch.

  16. Linda Miller

    I love paper birch trees, especially in stand.
    Thanks, Linda

  17. Erica

    The lichen appears to be a species of Umbilicaria, which can be used to dye wool lavender. Beautiful photo.

  18. Hollis

    Many of the rare plants of the Black Hills of western South Dakota and northeast Wyoming are found in paper birch stands. These are disjunct boreal species, believed to be relics of the Pleistocene (as are the birch perhaps)

  19. Deb Lievens

    Hi Ruth, Thanks for the nice picture. I cut my botanical teeth in the Lake Massabesic area so it was a treat to see it highlighted on BPoD. The lichens are indeed Umbillicaria mammulata, rock tripe, the dark brown ones. The lighter ones are probably Lasallia papulosa, toadskin lichen. Both are common in the area, but my eyes can’t quite confirm that there are two genera.

  20. Aida

    This is a testament to the will to survive … against all odds.

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