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The statuesque Betula Pendula, commonly called the Silver Birch tree, is a native tree of the UK and much of Europe. The tree grows to a height of 30 meters. Its canopy is relatively light and features somewhat drooping branches that spread out about 8 meters. Silver Birch trees take anywhere from 20 to 50 years to reach their full growth potential.
In Britain, the Silver Birch tree has a long illustrious history in Celtic lore. It was believed that the tree symbolized renewal and purification. Brooms were often fashioned from the silver birch tree and used to purify gardens. Betula Pendula has also come to represent love and fertility. In the Scottish Highlands, legends arose that stated if a birch stick was used to herd a cow she would become pregnant and give birth to a healthy calf.
The wood of the silver birch tree has been widely used around the world to tan leather. The cotton industry in Lancashire also used bobbins, spools, and reels made from the birch.
The most striking characteristic of Betula Pendula is its bright white bark that peels in large strips to reveal dark, diamond-shaped fissures. The shedding bark is thin and has a paper-like appearance. The mint green foliage of the tree stands out in stark contrast against the tree’s limbs and trunk. The tree’s small, triangular shaped leaves turn a bright gold in the autumn.
In April and May, the tree produces long catkins that hang down in groups of two or four. Each of the male catkins is coloured a yellowish-brown. The female catkins are shorter than the males and stand erect. They are a vibrant shade of green. After pollination, the female catkins start to thicken and turn a brilliant crimson. They produce an abundance of seeds that are spread by the wind in the fall.
The silver birch tree is indispensable to wildlife and is a valued addition to any woodland garden setting. A variety of songbirds feast on the tree’s seeds and other birds such as woodpeckers seek refuge in its canopy for nesting.
Plant the silver birch tree in full sun or partial shade. It flourishes in well-drained moist soil and is not too particular about soil type. It will grow in sandy loam, loam, clay, or chalk. It also can exist well in alkaline or acidic soil. Once planted and established, the tree requires very little care. It can also withstand even the harsh winters of zone H7.
Whether planted as a single garden specimen or massed together, the silver birch is an eye-catching tree that completes any woodland garden setting. It provides shade to the garden and its shed leaves add much-needed nutrients to the soil.