Tree Stories 2 – Silver Birch

When I posted the first entry under Tree Stories, on 2 August, I said that I had completed another story. Here it is: Silver Birch.

I delayed posting the story first because it is so different to the Sweet Chestnut story, and not at all what I actually planned to write, and second because I hadn’t managed to take any photographs to accompany it yet. I have now realised that neither of these reasons matter. This story is the one that got written, and Silver Birch is happy with it; Birch likes the fact it suggests a way of actually working with a tree. And while it would be nice to have all the pictures I could want to choose from to accompany the story, well this is planet Earth where things happen at a certain pace and I can only be in one physical place at a time. They will follow when the time is right.

I love the delicacy of silver birch, the incredible fresh green of the Spring leaves, and the light it brings with its bark in the midst of winter, and yet with all that it is the hardiest of all broad-leaved trees. It is one of the first colonisers of new ground, because it is shallow rooted gaining purchase from minimal soil cover or cracks between rocks, and because it can work with almost any available fungus to help get the nutrients it needs; it has the second highest number of fungi associated with it of any tree, after beech. It is particularly useful for reclaiming old mining areas, stabilising the soil and creating the root conditions that allow other plants to grow. For these reasons it is the tree to call on for help when you are beginning something new, or to support new life.

The wood itself is light in colour, and can have interesting rippling effects running through it. It was traditionally used for clogs, as well as children’s toys and bobbins. Twigs make a good broom, a popular use for witches. However it is the bark which sees the majority of uses: roofing, baskets, making cord, weaving shoes, nets, plates, rolled torches, parchment, and of course canoes, thanks to the resins serving to give it some water resistance.

I have used tea made from the leaves to cure cystitis, and the rising sap is apparently good for preventing kidney stones – as well as being turned into drinks, for the sugars can be concentrated by boiling, or fermented into an alcoholic wine or mead.

There was for a while a silver birch growing out of the top of a building in a nearby town centre that used to make me smile every time I saw it. I first mistook it for a Christmas tree, since it was nicely centred in the middle of a false-fronted two storey shop, but it carried on growing to a good six feet high before it was removed. Can’t imagine it did the building much good, but how wonderful it was to see it growing there!

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