New Hampshire State Tree
Paper Birch (common name)
Betula papyrifera (scientific name)
Paper birch is easily recognized for its peeling white bark, which actually found historical use as a paper substitute. Alternate common names for the tree are canoe birch, white birch, and silver birch.
Paper birch is a fast-growing deciduous tree, generally short-lived, and quick to colonize areas that have been burned or cleared. It is a tree of the north woods, very cold tolerant, with most of its range in the northern United States and in Canada.
In addition to being designated the state tree of New Hampshire in 1947, paper birch was adopted as the provincial tree of Saskatchewan in 1988.
This is a medium-sized hardwood tree with peeling bark that is bright white and striped with black zones. Its simple oval leaves are toothed on the margins and alternately arranged, turning bright yellow in fall. Its flowers occur in elongated clusters in early spring. Its fruit is a small cone that releases small, winged seeds.
Height: up to 70-80 ft (21-24 m)
Diameter: 10-31.5 in (25-80 cm)
Bark: young: reddish-brown
mature: thin, white, smooth, with dark lines, separates/peels easily
Cones: small, brown, 1-3 in (2.5-7.5 cm) long
Leaves: oval, green in summer and turning yellow in fall, 2-4 in (5-10 cm) long
Paper birch is short-lived. Height growth ceases at about 60 to 70 years of age, and few trees live more than 140 years.
Paper birch is a northern species adapted to cold climates. Its range is bounded on the north by areas with average July highs of 55° F (13°C), and in the south, it seldom grows naturally where average July temperatures exceed 70°F (21°C).
It grows at the northern limit of tree growth in arctic Canada and Alaska, in boreal spruce woodlands and forests, in mountain and subalpine forests of the west, in the woods of the northern Great Plains, and in coniferous, deciduous, and mixed forests of the northeast and Lake States.
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE
Although its nutritional quality is poor in the winter, paper birch is important to wintering moose because of its sheer abundance. Although considered a secondary-choice food, paper birch is an important dietary component of white-tailed deer and beaver. Snowshoe hares browse paper birch seedlings and saplings, and porcupines feed on the inner bark of trees. Paper birch is also eaten by beaver and hare.
Numerous birds and small mammals eat paper birch buds, flower clusters, and seeds. Communities of young paper birch trees provide prime cover for deer and moose. Numerous cavity-nesting birds nest in paper birch, including woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, and swallows. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers peck holes in the bark, and hummingbirds and red squirrels then feed at sapwells created by sapsuckers.
OTHER USES AND VALUES
The bark, which can be peeled in large wide strips, was once valued for construction of canoes, as a fire-starter, and as a medium for messages. Native Americans also made paper birch bark into baskets, storage containers, mats, baby carriers, moose and bird calls, torches, household utensils, and canoes. The strong and flexible wood was made into spears, bows, arrows, snowshoes, sleds, and other items.
The hard, close-grained wood continues to be utilized for pulpwood, plywood, and veneer, and for making toothpicks, ice cream sticks, clothespins, spools, and toys. It is easily worked and takes finishes and stains readily. Furniture, cabinets, and numerous specialty items are made from paper birch lumber. Tree chips are used for pulp and paper manufacture, reconstituted uses, and fuel. It is commonly used as fireplace and wood stove fuel.
Paper birch's graceful form and attractive bark make it a popular landscape plant. The sap is made into syrup, wine, beer, and medicinal tonics.
New Hampshire's state tree is a prolific seed producer. Seed production begins at about age 15, with optimum production at 40 to 70 years of age. The small, double-winged seeds are dispersed primarily by wind.
Paper birch sprouts following cutting or fire. Sprouts typically arise from the stump base or root collar. Prolific sprouting is common in young trees, with some individuals producing up to 100 sprouts.
This tree grows in climates ranging from boreal to humid, and tolerates wide variations in the amount and pattern of precipitation. Paper birch is shade-intolerant. It is abundant on burned-over and cutover lands, where it often forms pure groupings.
Paper birch is most abundant on rolling, upland terrain and in fertile soils rich with sediment, but grows on almost any soil and topographic situation, including rugged mountain slopes, open slopes, rock slides, bogs, and borders of bogs and swamps. It grows best on deep, well-drained to moderately well-drained, sandy or silty soils common on glacial deposits.
The most widely distributed of all North American birches, paper birch closely follows the northern limit of tree growth. Its range reaches across Canada and Alaska, south into Washington, northeast Oregon, northern Idaho, and western Montana. There are scattered outliers in the northern Great Plains of Canada, Montana, North Dakota, the Black Hills of South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, and the Front Range of Colorado. Paper birch's range continues east to Minnesota and Iowa, through the Great Lakes region into New England. Paper birch also extends down the Appalachian Mountains from central New York to western North Carolina. In boreal spruce ecosystems, paper birch forms nearly pure, pioneer communities on disturbed sites.
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U.S. Forest Service
U.S. National Arboretum
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Author: World Trade Press