More than 50 species of birch trees grow around the world, including paper birch (Betula papyrifera). Also known as white, silver or canoe birch, mature paper birch trees feature a smooth, white bark that peels or curls into paper strips. The trees grow up to 80 feet in height with a trunk that reaches up to 30 inches in diameter. The tree features creamy-white sapwood and small, brown, knotty heartwood, making it useful for a variety of purposes.
Paper birch trees work well for borders, as single specimens or for use as a windbreak. The tree thrives in a variety of climates from near the Arctic all the way south to the Great Plains. The tree grows in almost any well-drained soil type although it prefers loamy or sandy soils near riparian areas. Paper birch requires full sun. If other trees begin to shade paper birch trees, it begins to die.
The wood from the paper birch tree gets used for veneer, plywood and pulpwood. The wood takes a beautiful finish or stain. Other items made from the wood include furniture and cabinets. Chips from the trees turn into pulp, paper, tooth picks and spools. Dry paper birch wood also works well as fuel for fireplaces or wood stoves. Sap from the tree gets made into wine, beer and medicine to treat colds, coughs and arthritis. Oil extracted from the tree works well when used in insect repellent.
Wood from the paper birch makes an easy-to-use material for custom woodworking. The low-priced wood dries with minimum shrinkage, although it requires weights during the drying process to keep it from warping. The structure of the wood makes it ideal for stains and finishes with the end result resembling maple wood.
Wildlife find the paper birch tree makes a valuable food source. Moose rely on stands of the tree as an important winter browsing food, while white-tailed deer eat the leaves in the fall. Porcupines feed on the inner bark of the trees, while snowshoe hares rely on the seedlings and saplings of new trees for food. Beaver also use the tree for food. Voles, shrews and birds eat the seeds, buds and catkins from the tree. Birds also use cavities in the trees for nesting sites. Sapsuckers make sap wells on the tree, with hummingbirds and red squirrels following along to feast on the sap from the holes.
Native Americans used the bark of the paper birch tree to make baskets, containers and household utensils as well as instruments for calling moose and birds. They used the wood to make canoes, bows, spears and arrows. Snowshoes and sleds were also made from the flexible wood.