When we think about birch, most of us visualise a flaky white bark that we see on mature tress in gardens and parks. However, young growth of the species has a reddish brown bark and often is not recognised as birch. It is an extremely hardy tree and will quickly colonise un-grazed or neglected land.
Birch has always been regarded as a ‘protective tree’ and its presence in a house was thought to ward off ‘evil spirits’. Folklore tells us of a wedding couple having to jump over a birch broom before they could be considered properly married. In those times ‘broomstick’ weddings were regarded as more binding than even church weddings!
The wood, which is pale brown, is soft and even grained. Quite good walking sticks can be made with birch as the wood is both lightweight and strong. The sanded or shaved shanks respond nicely to finishing with linseed oil and varnish.
One note about birch – It has a tendency to rot if left outdoors for long periods. It is important, therefore, to take good care of your birch walking stick and to keep it indoors when not being used.
Birch trees have separate male and female flowers. The flowers appear at the same time as the new leaves in the spring.
The male flowers are drooping catkins, about 3 cm long. The pollen can be a problem to hay fever sufferers. Female flowers are upright and between 1 and 2cm tall. The flowers are wind pollinated.