Glory of the White Birch Tree

Glory of the White Birch Tree

Walks in the woods on a warm, sunny, fall days are some of my favorite experiences. If the trail winds through trees that include white birch, it transforms into the mystical realm. No words, photographs, video or other forms of art can capture the human perception using all your senses. The aroma of dry leaves, mixed with the caress of a soft fall breeze on your skin, the faint sounds reaching your ears of falling leaves landing on the forest floor. All those wonders are background to the visual deluge of a pallet of radiant oranges, yellows, reds, greens accentuated by the glowing white bark of the white birch tree. Those days remain burned in your brain for a lifetime. It approaches falling in love without the stormy ecstasy of it, but like love, impossible to describe. The closest I can get with words is “serene rapture.”

white birch tree

Photo “Fall Icons” by Guy D. Biechele

Clicking or Touching the Image Links to Guy’s Website

History of The White Birch Tree

During the last Ice Age, a vast White Spruce forest covered the Great Plains and eastern United States just south of the tundra bordering the great ice sheets. The White Birch, along with the spruce were some of the earliest species to follow the retreating ice sheets northward, reaching the Canadian border soon after the ice retreated.

Characteristics

white birch tree

The White Birch is a small to medium sized deciduous tree, which usually grows to approximately 70 feet in height, although some at 130 feet are known. The average life expectancy is about 60 to 70 years, which is short for trees. It is recognized by its bark, which is bright white, and smooth with small black marks and scars. It often separates into papery strips and is easily peeled off in sheets. It is native to North America, from Alaska, throughout Canada, and as far south as North Carolina.

Other Common Names are Canoe Birch, Paper Birch, and Silver Birch

white birch tree

Interesting Facts About The White Birch Tree

New Hampshire state tree

Saskatchewan provincial tree

Sap can be boiled down to produce birch syrup, and also can be used for wine, beer, and medicinal tonics

Wood makes excellent high-yielding fire wood, lumber for furniture, flooring, and popsicle sticks

Native Americans used White Birch bark to cover canoes, make baskets, baby carriers, mats, torches and moose calls. The wood was strong and flexible, so they used it to fashion spears, bows and arrows, snowshoes, and sleds.

Although moose and white-tailed deer will eat the leaves and tender shoots of the White Birch, it is not their favorite food. Porcupines like to eat the bark and rabbits eat the seedlings and young saplings. Beavers also eat it although generally prefer aspen, while willow and White Birch are second choices. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers will peck little holes in the bark and feed on the sap. Hummingbirds and squirrels also drink the sap from the sap wells made by the sapsuckers.

A Native American Legend

Long ago and not far away, a boy was born into a respected family. Before he could walk, a naming ceremony was held in his honor. He was given the name Wiigwaas. Wiigwaas was given many gifts from the Creator. One of those gifts was to help others in a good way. Wiigwaas not only helped his father hunt and fish, but he also helped his mother pick wild berries and tend the garden. He helped the elderly in his village and in other villages nearby. He helped the people make canoes and build their homes.

One day, when he became a young man, Wiigwaas had to go to battle. In this battle, he lost his life. His brothers brought him home. He was wrapped in pure white buckskin and buried on a hill just beyond his village. After the burial, they held a farewell ceremony. The following spring, his people noticed that a little tree had begun to grow at the site of his grave. As this tree grew taller, a dream came to the father of Wiigwaas. In this dream, Wiigwaas told his father that he was still able to help his people. The dream showed the father how to use the birch tree.

“In the springtime, you can take the sweet sap from the tree and distribute it among your people to use as they do the sap from maple trees. The people can peel the bark from the tree and use it. The women may use it to create bowls and baskets for keeping food. The men can use the bark for building lodges and canoes. From the strong wood inside the tree, you can make sleighs and lodge poles. All people can use its wood to make fires.” Today, Wiigwaasʼ words are remembered and he is still helping his people this way, even in death.

Note:

I am a fiction writer, but research topics and provide posts like the one above for enlightenment and entertainment. If you liked it, please take a look at some of my other posts and my home page, R. A. Andrade. This topic was prompted by the following passage in my novel, The Field Trip:

They entered a white birch stand an hour before sunset. He marveled at how a faint orange hue painted the white bark with the changing light. Ross, his concentration on the beautiful colors, bumped into Jay’s back, causing her to stumble forward.

“You are not a careful person,” Jay declared.

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