White Birch Trees
|White Birch grows in climates ranging from boreal to humid and tolerates wide variations in precipitation. Its northern limit of growth is arctic Canada and Alaska, in boreal spruce woodlands, in mountain and sub alpine forests of the western United States, the Great Plains, and in coniferous - deciduous forests of the Northeast and Great Lakes states. |
The tree is particularly shade-intolerant. Where it occurs in old-growth forests, it is restricted to sunny glades and openings. Birches are often the first trees to repopulate logged, disturbed or burned acreage. Where such populations exist, they often crowd out other species, and form pure stands of silvery-white barked trees. In this habit, they are quite like the Black Walnut; walnuts are generally among the first trees sprouting in disturbed places of the woodlots and bottomlands of the American Midwest. Birches grow in almost any soil, but best in deep, well-drained alluvial soils with a sandy component; such soils are common at glacial deposits. It grows on a wide range of soil textures from gravels to silts, and grows on organic bog and peat soils.
Aboriginal Native Americans used birch bark to make canoes, rattles, torches, many types of containers, and also used it in construction of their dwellings. Lightweight and flexible, the bark could be cut and bent to make containers of any desired shape. Trays, dishes, storage boxes, buckets and cooking pots were made of birch bark. The edges of the container were sewn together with plant fibers. If the edges were sealed with pine pitch or spruce resin, the container could be used to carry water or hung over a fire to cook a soup or stew. Birch bark cutouts or stencils often were used to decorate containers, and also provided patterns for Native American beadwork.
The white outer bark layer made a good substitute for the paper that it resembles, and drawings could be made on it with a piece of charcoal. Birch bark burns easily. It was shredded and used for tinder to start campfires, folded and stuck in the cleft of a long pole to illuminate the water depths for night spear fishing, and rolled into cylinders used as long-burning torches.