Everything Goes With PB (Paper Birch)!
Today I have decided to talk about Paper Birch. It’s native to Alberta and what an amazing tree! It might be shorter lived than many other tree species (30-100 years or so!), but during its shorter existence it makes quite an impact.
It is one of the first to recolonize burned areas and allow for other species of plants and animals to move in by providing cover. A healthy stand of Paper Birch in normal conditions has enough moisture content to actually act as a fire break! Once dry however, it changes into excellent fire wood burning long and hot with a pleasant smell.
Though comparatively, it may not have high economic value commercially, it is still used to manufacture popsicle sticks, furniture, flooring and pulp wood. Of course it’s most famous for its bark which often outlasts the inner wood and can be made into boxes, used as paneling for tepees and yes, the world famous birch bark canoe. Sleds, bows and snowshoes can be made from Paper Birch as well.
Paper Birch likes colder climates and tolerates a wide variety of conditions, but prefers moisture, well draining soil and sun. It has shallow but wide roots so it is more likely to break off at the trunk in high wind. It requires at least 60 days stratification (a cold storage period either outdoors in winter or in a fridge to mimic Mother Nature) before germinating in warmer temperatures. It’s a good thing it produces so much seed because the natural germination rate is quite low (quite often 40% or less). This tree is moenocious (female and male on one plant).
Male catkins are narrower and more shiny with closed scales while female catkins are fatter and gradually open to release many paper encased seeds. Generally trees don’t produce seed until they approach 15 years and higher seed production is achieved in alternating years.
Wildlife use this species for habitat and food source. Moose and deer will browse it, porcupine and beaver will eat the inner bark and bird species will drill grubs out of it. The infamous yellow bellied sap sucker prefers the sap of birch as it is sweet.
In fact, like the Sugar Maple, the sap can be harvested to make a sweet syrup. The production is lower with roughly 0.9% sugar content compared to 2-3% of Sugar Maple but it is a unique sweet taste nonetheless. Sap flows later than Sugar Maple which could extend the season of syrup producers if both varieties are grown. Though there are currently few birch sap producers, the potential is there to grow the market.
Aesthetically it is a beautiful tree and changes its look as it matures. Trees younger than 5 years are generally more reddish with horizontal white “lenticels” so one may not recognize a younger specimen as a Paper Birch. Older trees take on the more familiar chalk white colouration with black scars. The bark sloughs off in paper like sheets to reveal a more salmon tint underneath. This is what gives it the name Paper Birch as well as others like “White Birch” or “Canoe Birch”.
It has earned its right as the provincial tree of Saskatchewan and whether you decide to grow it for its sap, firewood, reclamation abilities or to beautify your yard, everything goes with PB!