The Benefits of Growing the Birch Tree

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birch tree

The birch tree is a medium-sized deciduous tree of the birch family Betulaceae, in the genus Birches. It belongs to the order Betulacea, with its close relative the poplar (also known as the oak tree). It is related to the oak family Fagaceae; the family also contains many other trees, most of them deciduous. The birch tree is native to Northern Europe and Asia, though its exact native extent is uncertain and probably no more than a dozen trees grow in the entire United States.

The family name Betulacea comes from the Greek word ‘betos’ meaning ‘wing’. The birch tree is widely distributed and common in North America, from the western coast of British Columbia to southern Ontario. It is the largest tree in Washington State, but there is an estimated 90 species of birch trees throughout the state.

The bark of the birch tree is thin and coarse, with large, irregular, rounded leaves, and the wood is reddish-brown. The flowers are small, whitish or pinkish, and the sap is clear. The tree flowers in summer and dies in winter.

The birch tree is a very adaptable tree, often growing to heights of fifteen feet or more and spreading to cover an area the size of a football field. Some species, however, are too large for their surroundings and are invasive. The name ‘birch tree’ comes from the fact that the flowers appear to birch, which is of no relation to any real trees in existence.

The bark of the birch tree is susceptible to disease and decay; thus it should be treated regularly to prevent this. Fungal spores may be carried on the wind or from animal faeces. Fungal infections are usually associated with damp soil, so soil irrigation can make a significant difference. If infected soil is not treated quickly, it can spread to neighbouring healthy plants and spread to other areas, potentially spreading the fungus.

The root system is simple, being composed of interlocking leaflets that grow tightly together and anchor the trunk to support. The root ball is covered by a mass of tough leaf blades, called thorns, which bear fruit at the centre of the tree.

Bark decay is caused by acid and other chemicals that can damage the wood. These include the alkaline effects of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and water, as well as the effect of fungi. To prevent this decay, it is important to remove dead organic material from the tree regularly, especially at the base of the tree.

The tree is vulnerable to insect damage. Aphids and white-fly larvae feed on its bark and leaf surfaces. Aphids, the larvae of a small fly, are attracted to its sap which, when consumed, produces a toxic gas that eventually kills them. Other insects also attack the tree, particularly the red spider.

Spider mites may live under the bark and feed on the inner part of the tree. Spiders can cause brown spots to appear on the bark of the tree. They are especially harmful to the roots and bark and should be removed by a specialist every couple of years.

A pest known as the red spider, which can live on the bark of the birch tree, is dangerous to people and animals. It burrows through the bark and injects a chemical into the skin that produces a poison that is absorbed through the skin and muscles. The poison does not affect humans but can be fatal to animals.

The tree is sensitive to cold conditions. Winter frosts, and even freezing rain, can cause problems when the tree is young and the leaves turn yellow and shrivel. Because the needles become brittle, the tree is less able to defend itself.

As it grows in height, the tree will produce branches that reach high enough to block the sun from the trunk. If this happens, the tree is at risk of being damaged by wind damage. If left unattended, the branch can be seriously injured or even killed.

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