Birch trees are old deciduous woody plants with needle-like leaves and a spiny texture. They are native to Europe and Asia but have now become a widespread species in many parts of the world, especially in North America. The word “birch” comes from the German word biss, meaning needle or blade. The most common in England are mostly the Downy (Betula pubescens) and Silver Birch (Betula pendula). We have in the past been hired for professional tree removal of diseased birch trees.
Birch trees are common in hedgerows, deciduous woodlands and fields. They grow in dense thickets in most parts of the country, although they do have some success in becoming free-standing trees in the coastal area of Ireland. There are two subspecies of this tree: the garden birch or Dog’s Tooth birch and the European birch tree or European birch. The Dog’s Tooth has been introduced into the United States and has become a serious pest there.
A European birch reaches up to 30 feet in height with a spread of nearly nine feet between the main trunk and its leafy crown. It has a spreading upright trunk and a long thick leafy branch that may reach four feet. The main stem and branch of the European birch grow straight up and has no terminal branch and is thus commonly called a trunkless tree. Each individual leaf of the European birch has an opening on each end which can be used as a separate flower or as a way to slip one leaf through another.
Needle birches have needle-shaped blooms, which grow up to three and a half feet tall and have narrow, pointed blossoms. The needle birch begins with a single needle growing from a single bud and the blooms burst as soon as they open. The needle style often has a cluster of blooms at the top and then spreads out laterally before blooming again. Each individual bloom is surrounded by a ring of tiny needle-like leaves.
The generalist will keep the needles clipped to minimise damage and distortion due to wind and water. They also are pruned to remove dead or damaged needles so they do not become a problem during the rest of the year. Winter care consists of cutting all dead needles back to about a half inch away from the main trunk. Pruning usually follows the first flush of growth in the spring.