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Overview

Brief Summary

Birch trees are common in the Netherlands. Silver birch is no exception, particularly on sandy soils. Birch woods in this country are native and provide a home to many animals. Like all birch species, the bark is generally smooth and white. Sometimes it peels off like a sheet of paper. Silver birch closely resembles downy birch. In fact, they often cross-pollinate, creating hybrids. Silver birch can withstand difficult conditions, such as lengthy dryness and somewhat acidic soil. Therefore, it is one of the species of trees used on Texel to protect pine trees from from the salty sea wind. It also serves as a fire belt in production forests. You don't want to trim this tree in the spring or summer. Due to the sap stream, the tree will literally bleed to death.
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Biology

One of the reasons why birch managed to colonise the newly emerging lands following the retreat of the glaciers lies in its abundantly-produced seed, as fine as powder. Even today, it remains what botanists call a 'pioneer' species, one of the first trees to occupy suitable ground. That said, it is not a long-lived tree; most specimens die or succumb to fungal attack by the age of 70. However, they do offer protection to slower-growing, longer-lived tree species such as oaks, and where left to regenerate birches can play an important role in helping to nurture a wood. The catkins appear early in spring and release their pollen in clouds during April. The leaves emerge shortly after, a bright emerald green at first and finally turning golden in autumn. Birches produce an abundance of sap in spring and a cut stump will continue to 'bleed' for weeks. In North America, a species of woodpecker called the sapsucker taps birch trees in spring by cutting small wells in the bark and drinking the sap which oozes out. In the UK, a similar technique is employed by makers of birch tree wine, a drink once believed to have medicinal properties, including those of curing kidney stones and skin complaints.
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Description

One of the most familiar trees in the British countryside, the graceful silver birch is a genuine native, having been an early coloniser at the end of the Ice Age. Its papery-white bark – almost pink in young trees – distinguishes it from the downy birch Betula pubescens which has reddish bark that turns grey with age and is usually found in wetter habitats in the uplands. The leaves of silver birch are small and roughly diamond in shape. They are toothed on both sides and borne on slender warty twigs that shiver in the slightest breeze. Saplings also share this tendency to sway in the wind and, traditionally, foresters would remove young birches from plantations to avoid them flaying more valuable trees. As silver birch ages, its bark darkens and becomes rougher and more fissured and prone to attack by the birch polypore fungus Piptoporus betulinus. Birch wood has little strength as a timber although in the past it was used extensively in the Highlands of Scotland. The Highlanders made almost anything from it, including their furniture and houses. Traditionally, the suppleness of the branches and twigs was exploited for making besoms or 'witches' brooms. Smaller versions of this implement, stripped of bark, are still popular as kitchen whisks. Besoms were also used as fire beaters but, today, the Forestry Commission uses a less flammable material. Hardly surprising when you consider that birch bark and twigs are one of the best materials for starting a fire!
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Distribution

National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Exotic

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Unknown/Undetermined

Confidence: Confident

United States

Origin: Exotic

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Unknown/Undetermined

Confidence: Confident

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N Xinjiang (Altay Shan) [Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia (W Siberia); Europe]
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B.C., Man., Ont.; Conn., Mass., N.H., N.Y., Ohio, Pa., Vt., Wash.; Europe; Asia.
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Range

Birch is found throughout most of the UK and Europe and across Asia.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

Trees to 25 m tall; bark grayish white, exfoliating in sheets. Branches usually pendulous, dark brown, slender, glabrous, shiny; branchlets brown, slender, glabrous, sparsely resinous glandular or not. Petiole slender, 2-3 cm; leaf blade triangular-ovate or rhombic-ovate, 3-7.5 × 1.5-6 cm, abaxially densely resinous punctate, adaxially glabrous, base truncate, broadly cuneate, or cuneate, margin coarsely or incised doubly serrate, apex acuminate or caudate-acuminate; lateral veins 6-8 on each side of midvein. Female inflorescence oblong or oblong-cylindric, 1-3.3 cm × 8-10 mm; peduncle pendulous, 1-2 cm; bracts 5-6 mm, densely pubescent, ciliate, 3-lobed, middle lobe ovate or triangular-ovate, lateral lobes recurved, slightly longer than middle lobe. Nutlet obovate-elliptic, ca. 2 × 1 mm, sparsely pubescent, with membranous wings slightly longer than and ca. 2 × as wide as nutlet. Fl. Jun-Jul, fr. Jul-Aug. 2n = 28, (42), 56.
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Description

Trees , to 25 m; trunks usually several, crowns spreading. Bark of mature trunks and branches creamy to silvery white, smooth, exfoliating as long strands; lenticels dark, horizontally expanded. Branches pendulous; twigs glabrous, usually dotted with small resinous glands. Leaf blade broadly ovate to rhombic with 5--18 pairs of lateral veins, 3--7 × 2.5--5 cm, base cuneate, rarely truncate, margins coarsely and sharply doubly serrate, apex acuminate; surfaces abaxially glabrous to sparsely pubescent, covered with minute, resinous glands. Infructescences erect to nearly pendulous, cylindric, 2--3.5 × 0.6--1 cm, shattering with fruits in fall; scales adaxially sparsely pubescent, lobes diverging at middle, central lobe obtuse, much shorter than lateral lobes, lateral lobes broad, rounded, extended. Samaras with wings much broader than body, broadest near center, extended beyond body apically. 2 n = 28, 56.
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Diagnostic Description

Synonym

Betula verrucosa Ehrhart.
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Synonym

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Ecology

Habitat

Abandoned plantings, roadsides, edges of bogs, waste places; 0--350m.
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Temperate broad-leaved forests; 500-2300 m.
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This species favours dry heaths, downs and woods, but it will also grow in fens and marshes. It has been planted extensively as a show tree in parks and gardens.
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Associations

In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Foodplant / miner
larva of Anoplus plantaris mines leaf of Betula pendula x pubescens (B. x aurata)

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Foodplant / gall
solitary larva of Anisostephus betulinum causes gall of live leaf of Betula pendula
Remarks: season: -8 or 9
Other: minor host/prey

In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Foodplant / miner
larva of Anoplus plantaris mines leaf of Betula pendula

Foodplant / pathogen
Armillaria mellea s.l. infects and damages Betula pendula

Foodplant / mycorrhiza / ectomycorrhiza
fruitbody of Cortinarius armillatus is ectomycorrhizal with live root of Betula pendula

Foodplant / mobile cased feeder
larva of Cryptocephalus coryli grazes in mobile case on fallen catkin of Betula pendula
Remarks: captive: in captivity, culture, or experimentally induced

Plant / resting place / on
adult of Cryptocephalus frontalis may be found on Betula pendula
Remarks: season: 5-8

Foodplant / open feeder
adult of Cryptocephalus nitidulus grazes on live pollen of sapling of Betula pendula
Remarks: season: early 5-9
Other: major host/prey

Foodplant / saprobe
superficial stroma of Daldinia loculata is saprobic on burnt wood of Betula pendula

Foodplant / parasite
live leaf of Erysiphe ornata var. europaea parasitises sparse conidial anamorph of Betula pendula

Foodplant / parasite
fruitbody of Ganoderma resinaceum parasitises live trunk of Betula pendula
Other: minor host/prey

Foodplant / saprobe
fruitbody of Leptosporomyces fuscostratus is saprobic on dead, fallen, decayed bark of Betula pendula
Other: unusual host/prey

Foodplant / gall
larva of Oligotrophus betulae causes gall of reduced-winged fruit of Betula pendula
Remarks: season: -6(7)
Other: major host/prey

Foodplant / gall
larva of Oligotrophus skuhravae causes gall of fruit pedicel of Betula pendula
Other: minor host/prey

Foodplant / gall
larva of Oligotrophus tarda causes gall of live, wingless or with reduced wings fruit of Betula pendula
Other: minor host/prey

Foodplant / saprobe
fruitbody of Peniophora polygonia is saprobic on dead wood of Betula pendula

Foodplant / saprobe
sessile, clustered, erumpent through cracks in bark, sessile apothecium of Pezicula carnea is saprobic on fallen twig of Betula pendula

Foodplant / mycorrhiza / ectomycorrhiza
fruitbody of Phellodon confluens is ectomycorrhizal with live root of Betula pendula
Remarks: Other: uncertain
Other: major host/prey

Foodplant / saprobe
fruitbody of Pholiota alnicola var. alnicola is saprobic on dead, fallen, decayed wood of Betula pendula

Foodplant / parasite
hypophyllous Phyllactinia guttata parasitises live leaf of Betula pendula
Other: minor host/prey

Foodplant / mycorrhiza / ectomycorrhiza
fruitbody of Pisolithus arrhizus is ectomycorrhizal with live root of Betula pendula

Foodplant / saprobe
fruitbody of Pleurotus pulmonarius is saprobic on dead wood of Betula pendula
Other: minor host/prey

Foodplant / saprobe
fruitbody of Steccherinum ochraceum is saprobic on dead, fallen, decayed twig of Betula pendula
Other: minor host/prey

Foodplant / gall
Taphrina betulina causes gall of twig of Betula pendula
Remarks: Other: uncertain

Foodplant / mycorrhiza / ectomycorrhiza
fruitbody of Thelephora palmata is ectomycorrhizal with live root of Betula pendula
Remarks: Other: uncertain

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Known predators

Betula pendula is prey of:
Symydobius oblongus
Euceraphis betulae
Betulaphis quadrituberculata
Calaphis betulicola
Betulaphis brevipilosa
Hamamelistes betulinus

Based on studies in:
Europe: Central Europe (Plant substrate)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • M. Rejmanek and P. Stary, 1979. Connectance in real biotic communities and critical values for stability of model ecosystems. Nature 280:311-313, from p. 312.
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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Flowering/Fruiting

Flowering late spring.
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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Leaves deter herbivory: birch trees
 

The leaves of some birch trees may help deter herbivory by adsorbing arthropod-repelling chemical compounds emitted from neighboring plants.

     
  "Plant-emitted semi-volatile compounds have low vaporization rates at  20–25°C and may therefore persist on surfaces such as plant foliage. The  passive adsorption of arthropod-repellent semi-volatiles to  neighbouring foliage could convey associational resistance, whereby a  plant's neighbours reduce damage caused by herbivores.

"We found that birch (Betula spp.) leaves adsorb  and re-release the specific arthropod-repelling C15  semi-volatiles ledene, ledol and palustrol produced by Rhododendron  tomentosum when grown in mixed association in a field setup
 

  "In assessments for associational resistance, we found that  the polyphagous green leaf weevils (Polydrusus flavipes)  and autumnal moth (Epirrita autumnata) larvae  both preferred B. pendula to R.  tomentosum. P. flavipes also preferred  birch leaves not exposed to R. tomentosum to  leaves from mixed associations. In the field, a reduction in Euceraphis betulae aphid density occurred in mixed  associations.

 

"Our results suggest that plant/tree species may be protected by  semi-volatile compounds emitted by a more herbivore-resistant  heterospecific neighbour." (Himanen et al. 2010:722)


  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • 2010. Plants discover the benefits of good neighbors in strategy against herbivores. Science Daily [Internet],
  • Himanen SJ; Blande JD; Klemola T; Pulkkinen J; Heijari J; Holopainen JK. 2010. Birch (Betula spp.) leaves adsorb and re-release volatiles specific to neighbouring plants – a mechanism for associational herbivore resistance?. New Phytologist. 186(3): 722-732.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Betula pendula

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Betula pendula

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 23
Specimens with Barcodes: 40
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: GNR - Not Yet Ranked

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Status

Common in the UK.
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Threats

There are currently no threats to silver birch in the UK.
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Management

Conservation

Due to its invasive nature, silver birch scrub is often the reason why conservation work is carried out on some nature reserve sites. Birch colonises open areas quickly and, when left unchecked, can reduce the conservation value of habitats such as heathland. In consequence, there are no specific projects for conserving the species.
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Notes

Comments

May easily be confused with Betula platyphylla; however, in that species, the branches are not pendulous and the wings of the nutlet are about as wide as the nutlet. The name B. alba Linnaeus, nom. rej. prop., has been widely and persistently misapplied in the sense of B. pendula; the lectotype of B. alba belongs to the species currently known as B. pubescens Ehrhart, which does not occur in China.
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Comments

The Eurasian weeping birch ( Betula pendula ) is extensively cultivated throughout the temperate range of the flora, and it has been known to persist or to become locally naturalized in several areas, particularly in the Northeast. In vegetative features it resembles B . populifolia Marshall, to which it is closely allied; it can easily be distinguished from the latter by its peeling bark, as well as by its mostly pubescent leaves with somewhat shorter, acuminate apices.
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