Tree Species

Information on the silviculture of over seventy tree species is provided, many of which are less well-known or tested in Britain. Although many of these are considered "minor" or "novel", most have been grown in the country for well over two hundred years but have never been adopted widely by foresters.

Some of these may prove more resilient to a changing climate or pests and diseases, others may provide valuable products for future markets. In the right place, such species can help diversify our forests to provide a range of benefits to society and the environment.

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Birch (Downy)

Betula pubescens

Synonyms: Birch (European white), Birch (Moor), Birch (White)

Native range

Native to all parts of the British Isles.

Provenance choice

British seed sources of good form should be preferred. On equivalent sites it tends to be slower growing and have poorer stem form than silver birch.

Site requirements

A light demanding pioneer species with moderate early height growth which is frost resistant and windfirm. Found on moister soils of very poor to medium nutrient status and it is one of the broadleaved species that can grow on peaty soils. It is also found in mixture with both broadleaves and conifers.

Pests and pathogens

Rust pathogen Melamsporidium betulinum is considered important on birch in several European countries, associated with retarded height growth and increased mortality. Provenance and environmental conditions play a role in infection levels. Fungal pathogens Discula betulina and Anisogramma virgultorum may also be damaging. Betula is also rated as very susceptible to Armillaria root rot (honey fungus).

Timber characteristics

The heartwood tends to be a light reddish brown, with nearly white sapwood.  There is virtually no color distinction between annual growth rings, giving birch a somewhat dull, uniform appearance.  The timber has similar strength properties to oak but is not as durable.   Birch is perishable and will readily rot and decay if exposed to the elements. 


Common uses are plywood, boxes, crates, turned objects, interior trim, and other small specialty wood items.  In Britain, the trees do not grow large enough to provide large-diameter logs but can be used in furniture, veneers, plywood and pulp; the wood also makes good firewood.  Birch can be planted to improve soil quality; the roots grow very deep underground and draw up nutrients into the leaves and branches. When the leaves fall, any unused nutrients are made available to the rest of the forest through recycling. Birch is also valuable as a nursing tree to protect oak, beech or frost-tender conifers.  This species is likely to increase in importance, particularly as a component of spruce dominated forests in western Britain.

The database contains ... with this species.

Most text is based on Forest Research Tree Species and Provenances web pages.

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