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 (Silver)

Betula pendula

Synonyms: Birch (European white)

Native range

Native to all parts of the British Isles up to the tree line.

Provenance choice

British seed sources of good form or material from breeding programmes should be used. Avoid seed sources from more continental European climates.

Site requirements

A light demanding pioneer species with fast early growth which is both frost resistant and windfirm. Grows on a wide range of mineral soils from very poor to medium nutrient status but on wetter soils it tends to be replaced by downy birch. It is a relatively short lived species and mature trees often die after a severe drought (e.g. 1976, 2003). It often colonises restock sites where mixtures with both conifers and broadleaves can develop.

Pests and pathogens

Widespread and gradual dieback of birch occurs in some areas, especially in young trees 5-10 years after planting. 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. On silver birch two canker fungi are particularly associated with the dieback – Discula betulina and Marssonina betulae. Provenance may be an important factor in determining susceptibility to these diseases, although climatic variables also play a part. 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 include 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.  The use of silver birch in British forestry has increased over recent decades and this is likely to continue but with climate change the species may be increasingly vulnerable to drought on drier sites.

The database contains ... with this species.

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

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