Silver birch (Betula pendula) grows wild throughout the British Isles, especially on heathland and other light, acid soils. Birch trees are a particularly important part of the landscape in Scotland and often occur in woods mixed with Scots pine.
Young trees have shiny, red-brown bark. The distinctive, silvery-grey colour does not appear for a few years and in old trees it is marked by rough, black fissures. The small, diamond-shaped leaves produce a delicate canopy, creating dappled shade that is light enough for other plants to grow in. They turn yellow briefly in autumn.
The flowers consist of long, hanging male catkins and short, upright female catkins. The tiny seeds have small, papery wings for wind dispersal.
How to grow birch trees
Birch trees grow quickly reaching 8m tall with a 3m spread in 10 years, 18m x 4m in 20 years and 25m x 10m ultimately. Mature trees form a narrow, conical shape with arching branches and hanging twigs.
Birches are very hardy and tolerant of exposure. They will grow in most positions but do best on light, well-drained soils in full sun. Birch trees are suitable for planting alone, in small groups, or as part of woodland.
Birch leaves support a range of moth caterpillars including the buff ermine, light emerald and poplar hawk moth. The numerous seeds are a popular food for small birds such as siskins, redpolls, goldfinches and greenfinches. Aphids feeding on the leaves provide food for blue, coal and long-tailed tits, and willow warblers.