Paper Birch is the tree of the north

Paper Birch is the famous white tree of the boreal forest.
Often called the White Birch or Canoe Birch, it is the tree which the natives used for their canoes, fabled in song and story.
They also made baskets out of the bark, and cups and pails. Some also used the bark to cover wigwams in the winter.
There is not just one variety, but several. The one we would be familiar with grows from Manitoba to Newfoundland and Labrador. Other varieties grow in the far west and the far north, too.
They all tend to interbreed, so you can’t always tell just which variety you are looking at.
There are some characteristics which are common to all the varieties. For instance, they all have catkins (these are the flowering parts). Both male and female catkins appear on the same tree, with the male being longer and thicker.
In the spring, they are something like long pussy-willows, and in the fall they hang onto the tree for quite some time.
The seeds are quite tiny, but they have fairly big “wings” so they can blow around.
Leaves are sort of egg-shaped, and usually are quite dark green. When autumn comes, they turn bright yellow and form one of the really bright and beautiful spots of our pre-winter landscape.
The most notable thing about this birch is its bark, which is usually bright white and marked by prominent lenticels (these are small openings in the bark which allow oxygen and carbon dioxide to pass in and out).
This bark is laminated with sometimes up to 30 layers.
It is impervious to water, and is quite resistant to age and decay. For these reasons, it has many uses besides the building of canoes.
In Scandinavia, for instances, some people still cover the rafters with birchbark before they put on the shingles.
It was used for leggings, and we are told that up to some years ago, Russian peasants made shoes out of this bark.
This tree also is called the Canoe Birch—and for very good reasons.
The native canoes were the wonder of the Canadian north. A man could go along at a very good speed on the water and, when he had to, could pick up his boat and carry it a long way.
But don’t think that they were all little. Some of the natives built canoes which were 40 feet long or more. They were moved along by 14 paddles, and could carry four tons or more of furs or trade goods.
The Indian Canoe, covered with birchbark, was one of the major items which helped open up Canada and the northern states to exploration and development.
The White Birch usually is a medium-sized tree, two feet or so in diameter and about 60-80 feet tall. The tallest on record in North America was in Maine (about six feet across and 96 feet high).
There are tales from Russia, though, of birches which reach up to 130 feet tall.
Some pretty good wine can be made from the sap of the birch, and a type of flour can be ground up from the inner bark. When the wood is partially rotted, it becomes “punk,” which was used to start fires in the old days.
A “punky” log would smoulder all night to keep the house fairly warm.
Birches often are planted on lawns as specimen trees. Sometimes they are in a clump, which makes a very nice-looking accent piece.
The Weeping Birch, which also is planted on front lawns, is a relative of our native birch from Europe.
The scientific name of this tree is Betula papyrifera. The name Betula was given to it by the Romans.
Our birch has been admired for a very long time.

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