In Sweden there are three species of birch: downy birch, (Betula pubescens) silver birch, (Betula pendula), and dwarf birch (Betula nana). They grow in all parts of the country but silver birch is more common in the south, downy birch and dwarf birch in the north. There also are a few common varieties, ornäs birch, mountain birch and masur birch.
The white bark is called näver and is an important material for crafts people. Bark from downy birch is the best for craft work, being smooth and with few knot marks. Silver birch bark has an uneven structure with black fissures and dwarf birch has no trunk.
Silver birch grows on rich or dry soils and has long, hanging twigs with pointed, triangular leaves. Downy birch wants moist soils and has rounded leaves on twigs pointing upwards. Dwarf birches grow as small bushes on bogs and high mountains and have small round leaves.
Most parts of the birch can be used by craftspeople. The wood is whitish yellow, moderately hard, and flexible. It lacks taste and odour. Downy birch is more straight grown which makes the wood easier to work than the silver birch.
Furniture, joinery and kitchen utensils are made from birch wood. For ladles, spoons and door handles the crooked parts of limbs or trunk are used. Whisks, besoms and door mats are best made from twigs and branches. Young, straight buds can be twisted to withes to be used as ropes. Roots are used for basket weaving and to sew bentwood boxes and bark canisters. The bark is waterproof and highly resistant to rot and decay. It can be woven or sewn to containers and used to waterproof turf- and grass roofs.
Masur birch, a variety of silver birch, is slow-growing and gives a very hard wood, impossible to split. It is used for handles, mallets and other items requiring hard wood that do not easily split.
Industry uses birch for pulpwood.
Did you know that:
- Dwarf birch is excellent firewood, even when green.
- Birch leaves are used for dyeing of yarn and fabric.
- In folklore the birch was supposed to protect from evil powers. The leaves were brewed to tea to cure gout, rheumatics, and kidney complaints. The sweet sap was strengthening but could also be used for making vine.