Genus name: Betula

Deciduous and hardy, this striking genus of tall-growing trees is best known for its distinctive bark, which in varying species ranges from a pure white to shades of orange, red, brown, and black. Added to this is the delicate, graceful foliage, which turns gold in fall.

Most birches thrive in moist, sandy loam; they are hardy in cold climates, and generally short-lived in warm areas. Propagation is by seed, and sometimes by cuttings, budding or grafting.

The canoe or paper birch (Betula papyrifera) has a very white bark that peels. The river or red birch (Betula nigra), a hardy grower from Massachusetts to Florida and west to Kansas, has a red brown bark which sheds in thin flakes.

The cherry or sweet birch (Betula Lenta), found from Maine to Alabama and westward to Ohio, is characterized by a smooth, dark bark like that of the cherry tree, and has aromatic twigs from which oil of wintergreen is distilled. A tea can be made by boiling the young twigs, and this species has been tapped in spring for its moderately sweet sap. The strong wood, brown red at the heart, is used in cabinetry. When acted upon by ferrous sulfate, the bark makes a wine-colored dye.

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