|Monday Melange: Sweet Birch|
|Written by Heleigh Bostwick Monday, 11 June 2012|
With its interesting bark, showy spring catkins, and yellow fall color sweet birch (Betula lenta) is a wonderful addition to any naturalistic garden landscape. Planted alone as a specimen or shade tree or in a small clump, this fast-growing deciduous tree grows to a height of 40 to 60 feet. Sweet birch also goes by the name of black birch and cherry birch, the latter because when young, the bark of the sweet birch resembles the bark of cherry trees. It produces small winged nutlets in the fall.
Sweet birch is a member of the Birch (Betulaceae) plant family, the same one that the alder belongs to, and is considered a pioneer species, able to colonize waste sites such as mining spoils. As an early successional species it prefers full sun to partial shade and tolerates soil conditions ranging from rich well-drained loam to sand and heavy clays; however, it does not tolerate wet soils. Native to the eastern states of North America, the sweet birch grows as far north as Quebec (Zone 3) and as far south as the mountainous regions of Georgia and west to Ohio.
When crushed or chewed, the twigs have a taste similar to that of wintergreen. At present, the twigs and bark are harvested to make an essential oil that is used as a flavoring for foods, in cosmetics, and in the dental industry. Native Americans used the inner bark as a tea to treat colds, fevers, headaches, and arthritis. Later early settlers used the twigs and bark to make birch beer. In addition, the dense wood is used as a flooring material and to make furniture.
Photo source: www.etsu.edu