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Uses Name Characteristics


Betula spp.

Family: Betulaceae

  • found mostly in Northern United States and Canada
River Birch
  • tree or shrub
  • broken twigs may have a strong wintergreen odor
  • double-toothed
  • egg-shaped or triangular
  • edges are mostly even at base
  • leafstalks do not have glands
Flower and Fruit:
  • caterpillar-like catkins that become lengthened clusters of small dry fruit
  • male catkins are present in winter
  • fruit is produced from catkins
  • numerous cross-streaks
  • some species have papery bark that peels off in thin sheets
Buds and Leaf Scars:
yellow birch bark white birch bark

Wood and bark can be distilled to give birch tar used to make leather waterproofing. The wood of the birch is ideal for building a lean-to. Eating untensils can be carved from the non-resinous wood because you do not get a wood resin aftertaste or taint the food. The tough, flexible character of the wood makes it ideal for constructing snowshoes. A section of green twig from this tree can be used as an old-fashioned toothbrush. The curly, peely bark of the birch is ideal for tinder to start fires in dry weather. A piece of this dried hardwood can be used to make the drill and handle of a bow drill. This dense hardwood burns slowly and evenly making it ideal for slow cooking. The sap from the tree can be used as a shampoo, and the oil derived from the bark produces an effective insect repellent.

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