A close up of the bark of a paper birch tree. Steve Hillebrand, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
How big are paper birch?
Paper birch can grow to be over 80 feet tall and 16 inches in diameter.
How long do paper birch live?
Paper birch can live about 120 years.
What do their leaves look like?
Their leaves are broadly wedge shaped and 1 1/2 to 3 inches long. They have an uneven tooth-like edge around the leaves. They loose their leaves in the fall and grow new ones in the spring.
What does their bark look like?
Their bark is thin and smooth, dark red or brown on the new stems. As the tree grows the larger branches turn a creamy white color. The bark will often shed in large paper like sheets. If you remove the outer layer of bark you will find a reddish orange layer. If you peal off too much bark you can kill the tree. Birch bark is very good for starting fires. However, it is important to remember that you should only take bark off of downed trees, not live or standing trees.
Where do paper birch live?
Paper birch are often found on the edges of lakes and forest edges. They are not shade tolerant and need a lot of light to grow and develop. They are often among the first trees to grow in an area that has been burned of logged. They are a northern tree and are found in the northern United States and most of Canada.
What are some other cool fact about paper birch?
Traditionally birch bark played a very important role in the Ojibwa culture. Their summer and winter houses were made out of birch bark. The bark was used to cover the out side of the shelters to keep out the wind and rain. They also used the bark to make birch bark canoes which were their main form of transportation in the summer. When the Hudson Bay Company and the North West Company began trading furs in the 1700 the native people were hired to build birch bark canoes for them to use in their trading. Some of these canoes were able to carry sixteen people and 8,000 pounds of cargo! You can also make birch syrup out of the sap which is similar to maple syrup. However, the sugar content in birch sap is not as high as maple tree sap so you have to boil the sap longer to make syrup.