Origin: Europe and Asia
European white birch is a small tree with drooping branches, and bright white bark.Read more about Tree, Bark, Twigs
Leaves are triangular or diamond-shaped with pointed tips and double-toothed edges.Read more about Leaves
Flowers are tiny, either male or female, clustered in separate catkins on the same tree.Read more about Flowers
Fruits are tiny winged nutlets, clustered in catkins.Read more about Fruit
Bark on the trunks of young trees is white and slightly peeling horizontally. There are often dark triangular marks on the trunk beneath the junction with the shiny brown branches.
Leaves are 3 - 7 cm (1 1/8" - 2 3/4") long, hairless, triangular or diamond shaped, with a straight or wedge-shaped base and a pointed tip.
Leaf edges are double toothed. The straight leaf veins (5-8 per side) extend from the midvein to the tips of the larger teeth.
Flowers are tiny, either male or female, each kind clustered in separate catkins on the same tree. Flowers mature as the leaves emerge.
Male flowers are borne in catkins 4 - 9 cm (1 1/2" - 3 1/2") long, and are brown before opening, yellow when mature.
European white birch, also called silver or weeping birch, is native to Europe and Asia. It has long been planted and their are numerous cultivated varieties (cultivars). First introduced to North America in the mid-18th century, European white birch has been extensively planted, and has become naturalized in parts of eastern North America. Like other birches, European white birch, is a fast-growing, short-lived species that usually survives less than 50 years.
Derivation of names
The genus name Betula is the classical name for the birches. The common name birch is thought to derive from the Sanskrit word bhurja, which means "a tree whose bark is used for writing upon."Pendula means bending or drooping, from the Latin pendere, to hang. This and the common name "weeping", refer to the trees drooping branchlets.
The wood of European white birch is durable and has been used to make skis, clogs, and spindles. In Russia, extracts from the bark have been used to preserve leather. As a fast-growing and short-lived tree, it has been used in forestry plantations to protect vulnerable, slow-growing saplings of trees such as beech.
European white birch resembles grey birch (Betula populifolia), which is native to eastern Canada (including eastern Ontario) and the northeastern United States. Grey birch differs in having leaves with long tapering tips and male catkins in clusers of one or two. Grey birch is not commonly planted in urban settings.
European white birch's place in Toronto's urban forest
At one time, European white birch was a popular choice for planting on public and private property. It still can be found in many parks and foundation plantings. It has escaped cultivation and become naturalized in sunny well-drained sites. Unfortunately it can become invasive so should not be planted adjacent to natural areas.
Landscape value and potential for home planting
European white birch is no longer recommended for home planting because of its susceptibility to pests and its invasiveness.
Pests and diseases: European white birch is particularly susceptible to bronze birch borer (Agrilus anxius). This insect, native to Canada, attacks many species of birch, causing the crown to thin and the leaves to drop prematurely. For more information on this pest, see Natural Resources Canada factsheet. European white birch may also be affected by birch rust, Melampsoridium betulinum that is common in the northern hemisphere and causes browning foliage, but does not necessarily kill the tree.
Find trees on Tree Tour maps at Canadian Tree Tours: