Did you know that the bark of the birch tree is practically imperishable, due to the resinous oil which it contains. The color of the birch tree gives the common names Red, White, Black, and Yellow to different species. The wood of all the species is close-grained with satiny texture and capable of taking a fine polish; its fuel value is fair. The bark of all birches is characteristically marked with long horizontal lenticels, and often separates into thin papery plates, especially upon the Paper Birch.
Birch wood is fine-grained and pale in colour, often with an attractive satin-like sheen. Ripple figuring may occur, increasing the value of the timber for veneer and furniture-making. The highly-decorative Masur (or Karelian) birch, from Betula verrucosa var. carelica has ripple texture combined with attractive dark streaks and lines. Birch wood is suitable for veneer, and birch ply is among the strongest and most dimensionally-stable plywoods, although it is unsuitable for exterior use. Due to birch pulp’s short-fibre qualities, this hardwood can be used to make printing paper. Birchwood also makes good firewood because of the high calorific value. Birch sap is drunk as a kind of syrupy beverage in some countries like Russia and northern China.
The leaves of the different species vary but little. All are alternate, doubly serrate, feather-veined, petiolate, and stipulate. Apparently they often appear in pairs, but these pairs are really borne on spur-like two-leaved lateral branchlets. The simple leaves may be toothed or lobed. The fruit is a small samara, although the wings may be obscure in some species. They differ from the alders (Alnus, the other genus in the family) in that the female catkins are not woody and disintegrate at maturity, falling apart to release the seeds, unlike the woody cone-like female alder catkins. To see pictures of the catkins click here.
Betula mandschurica var. japonica and Betula platyphylla var. japonica (Japanese White Birch or Silver Birch) are native to Japan. (aka カバ / Japanese Birch OTHER NAME. Shira－kamba.) But birch is the name of any tree of the genus Betula in the family Betulaceae, closely related to the beech/oak Fagaceae family. These are generally small to medium-size trees, mostly of northern temperate climates.
Japanese white birch (Betula platyphylla var. japonica) is found abundantly in Sapporo and in the forests surrounding area of Sapporo.
The common name birch is derived from an old Germanic root, birka, with the proto-Indo-European root bherg, “white, bright; to shine.” The botanic name Betula is from the original Latin.
Birch is used as a food plant by the larvae of many butterflies and moths.
The photos above were taken during the Japanese New Year when I visited my grandparents in Sapporo city, Hokkaido.