27. Paper Birch

(Betula papyrifera)

Other Common Names: American White Birch, Canoe Birch

Family: Betulaceae

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At the southeast corner of Thomson Hall stands a white-barked Paper Birch, a species whose native range extends from Alaska all across Canada and the northern United States. Native in Seattle, it is rare here, and is vastly outnumbered by its European cousin Weeping European White Birch. Its leaves are larger than those of the European Birch. Paper Birch also has a whiter trunk. The tree we single out at this stop has been hurt by the wall constructed next to it, so its top is thin and its leaves smaller than when it was healthy. Larger examples can be found elsewhere on campus.


Paper Birch is a pioneer species, quickly recolonizing disturbed land. However it is easily overtaken by other species that reproduce better in shade. The thin outer white bark of this species is easily harvested without killing the tree and is resinous, tough, durable, and waterproof. This was used to make drinking vessels, canoe skins, roofing tiles, buckets, and sunglasses to prevent snow blindness. A brown to red dye can be obtained from the inner bark. The wood is useful as a fuel because it burns well with a considerable amount of heat even when green, but it tends to coat chimneys with a layer of tar.

[Leaves and catkins of Paper Birch]

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