Exploring the Benefits and Uses of River Birch Wood: From Firewood to Furniture
River Birch Tree
The River Birch tree is deciduous and a member of the Beech family, Fagaceae. It can grow to 42m tall and reach diameters over 3m.
River Birch Trees are found in North America in moist soil, along watercourses and riversides. They are most commonly found on the floodplain of such waterways, usually on alluvial sands or clays. The bark has vertical ridges resembling birch bark, but the tree does not belong to the Birch family.
Characteristics River Birch Trees
River Birch trees have smooth grey bark, which sheds in strips to reveal dark brown wood beneath.
The River Birch tree has a pyramidal shape, and its branches tend to be horizontal about the parent tree. The mature leaves are arranged in opposite pairs along the branches and are glossy dark green, dark red or dark green, and bright yellow. The young leaves are light green but turn bright red when they mature.
The River Birch tree can live for hundreds of years, although its average life span is around 500.
River Birch trees have small flowers and an abridged flowering season from March to June, depending on latitude and elevation. The flowers are arranged in regular whorls around the stem, and the petals are violet-pink, scarlet, or white with green and hairy styles. The fruit, which turns black when mature, is spherical and is up to 10mm in diameter. The method of pollination is by the wind.
Types of River Birch Trees
There are two types of River Birch trees, i.e., broad and narrow. The narrow variety has one to three main branches. The wide variety has a much larger canopy.
River Birch trees have dense clusters of nuts that hang beneath the branches and fall on brutal winters, exposing the nuts to frost damage. The nuts are large and have a creamy white color. They can weigh up to 1 lb. per nut.
The nut meat is edible and covered in downy fur to be eaten along with the kernel. The nuts are often used as food by animals such as squirrels, birds, and chipmunks. Flowering occurs in late winter/early spring, peaking later in the spring than other deciduous trees like the Willow and Poplar Trees, which flower earlier in the season.
Like the hickory tree, the river birch produces an edible nut and is a preferred winter food source for many animals. Located just below the growing point of the tree on the ground, it is an easy-to-access over-winter food source for several species of rodents.
Humans have used the River Birchwood since early in prehistory. The River Birchwood makes excellent firewood, planks, and living quarters. It is also used as a structural component in construction.