Posted in Uncategorized on January 12, 2009 |
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Apparently Druids held (or hold) the belief that people descended from trees. I think that’s supposed to mean spiritually rather than climbed down in a Dawkins sense . With each lunar month being represented by a tree.
24th December to 20th January is represented by the Birch. Which may explain my fascination with the Birch tree, as it was my birchday in the last few days. The Birch is a lovely tree, sometimes called the ‘Queen of the Woods’ and this is, in part an excuse for me to post some photos and extol the Virtues of the Birch.
Today we are more likely to find Birch in a garden centre than a managed woodland. This is a shame since few people planting it in a garden apparently realise that once mature a full size tree can reach over 80 feet and a diameter of more than 2 feet and it commonly ends up in very inappropriate places. Wheras in the woods Birch is rarely if ever intentionally planted and managed, normally being cut or sprayed to get rid of it.
To add insult to injury many gardens and parks are planted with Himalayan or Japanese white Birch rather than the native Silver (Betula Pendula) or Downy (Betula Pubescens). Birch. This is presumably to accentuate the smoothness of the bark – but its not native Silver Birch – as many people may think.
To a large extent this is the result of a poor press over the centuries. In his book ‘Sylva or discourse on Forest Trees’ in 1664, John Evelyn wrote ‘Birch be of all other the worst of timber’.
There is little evidence for this aversion, other than birch rotting when in contact with the ground. But many woods do this and it can be easily treated as is the imported softwood we use for the same purpose.
The poor press seems to have caught on and generations of foresters have overlooked the birch in favour of other trees. It seems to be a particularly British viewpoint, in Scandinavia and North America where birch is prolific its beauty, hardiness and versatilitye gain it much respect.
Another theory is that in Scandinavia it grows more slowly and as a result the timber is better quality. I don’t subscribe to this and I think it more likely that in the UK it is at best ignored and at worst sprayed as a weed. It is rarely planted or managed as a woodland tree, and being a pioneer it grows through neglect or on waste ground, poor positions or poor soils, the resulting woodland being of poor quality. Despite this reputation many thousands of tons of birch wood are harvested and sold in the UK each year. Primarily for plywood veneers, furniture and fuel. Not bad for a weed.
But some simple research reveals that Birch wood has a surprisingly long list of traditional uses and many of the major ones are still alive and kicking (even if only just).
Birch is used for;
Luckily for you I’ve only listed under half the uses of Birch. The list in Chris Howkins’ excellent book ‘Heathland Harvest’ extends down a full A4 page. It would be great to see all of these uses more widely available before the skills are lost. I will be doing my bit,. At the moment I turn a range of items, make, spoons, coat hooks, table-mats, charcoal, brooms, birch sap wine, door mats, bean poles and pea-sticks . By my next Birchday it will be interesting to see how many more Birch skills I have started to acquire.
Well done if you have managed to read this far. There is much more that I’d like to write on the merits and uses of Birch, but it’s time to stop the rant for now and leave more for the future.
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