Most birch trees have limited economic value for their wood because their numerous branches cause knots in the trunk, and it is difficult to remove their branches and bark by mechanical means. Some birch species are grown and sold for ornamental planting because of their beautiful bark, their graceful, weeping branches and spectacular fall colors. The commercial value of birch trees depends largely on the species of birch.
Valuable Wood Quality
The pale, fine-grained birch wood often has a satin-like sheen and rippling pattern that makes it valuable for making furniture and veneers. The highly prized wood from the Masur birch (Betula pendula), grown largely in Finland, has an especially attractive, rippled texture with lines and dark streaks.
Finland and Russia both export 4-feet-by-4-feet sheets of high-density plywood that is used to make speaker cabinets, guitar amplifiers, architectural miniatures, model aircraft and doll houses. It is also useful for making strong, flexible skateboards.
Valuable North American Species
The yellow bark birch (Betula alleghaniensis) is found from southeastern Canada to the Appalachian mountains. It grows slowly and can live for 200 years. This is a valuable commercial tree because its strong, hard wood has a close grain -- making it useful for tool handles, interior finishes and veneers. Sweet birch or cherry birch (Betula lenta) is the source of wintergreen. Its strong, hard wood is valuable because its color deepens with exposure to air, making it look like mahogany. The strong, hard wood of the paper birch (Betula papyrifera) is sometimes used for veneer. The U.S. Forest Service reports that the wood from River birch (Betula nigra), the birch most commonly found in the U.S., is used to make baskets and furniture, and is burned as fuel. In some areas of the U.S. it is used as pulpwood. The black birch (Betula lenta), common in Connecticut, has commercial value for making firewood, lumber, pallets, railroad ties and veneer.
The wood of the gray birch or poplar birch (Betula populifolia), native to the Northern U.S. and the Atlantic seaboard, is often used for firewood. The water birch (Betula occidentalis) is cut for use as firewood or fence posts.
The paper birch (Betula papyrifera), native to the northern U.S. and Canada, is often sold in nurseries as an ornamental because of its attractive, creamy white bark. The European white birch (Betula pendula) is grown and sold for use as decorative trees in urban areas. The Schmidtii birch (Betula schmidtii), native to East Asia, is grown and sold commercially as an ornamental tree because of its lovely golden-yellow fall colors.