There are two types of birch in Ireland, downy and silver. The most usual is the downy birch, which like silver birch is a delicate tree with fine branches and small leaves. The springtime flowers are catkins which stay on the tree and contain the mature seed by autumn. Birch will grow in poor soils, but likes a sunny position. Downy birch is tolerant of wet sites, but silver birch needs good drainage. Birch woods occur widely, especially on marginal soils, lake edges, such as Lough Ennell Co. Westmeath, fens and on dried out bogs such as Ardkill Bog, Co. Kildare. Birch is typically associated with the Sperrins, growing in peat at the edge of bogs, and on the light sand and gravel soils. It makes a good ornamental garden tree, as it does not grow too large. Like alder, its seeds are popular with small seed-eating birds such as siskin and redpoll. In early times toghers or walkways, usually across bog land were made from birch. Nowadays, it is more commonly used in making plywood.
Betula pubescens / Betula pendula
Grows in a wide variety of soils
Suitable for Open Spaces
Suitable for Streets & Confined Spaces
Suitable as an Individual tree
Tolerates or prefers Damp Conditions
Tolerates smoke or pollution
Gather ripe catkins when they are dry and are about to disintegrate. Begin testing them in August. The catkins will dry and fall apart releasing the seeds and catkin scales. Collect seeds from native woods. Do not choose birch trees in gardens, parks, or planted roadsides as these are probably imported stock.
Store the seeds and catkin scales in a cool airy place. They are best stored in a natural fibre sack. Shake the bag regularly to disturb the seeds and encourage air circulation.
Birch can be raised from seed although silver birch is harder to germinate than downy birch. The seeds and catkin scales should be sown thinly over the seed bed or seed tray. Roll the seed bed because the seed is very sensitive to seedbed surface conditions. Cover with a light layer of sand to help hold moisture. It must be a very thin layer as the seed is light sensitive and will not germinate if the layer of sand is too thick. Some recommend no coverage at all. It is essential to keep the seed bed moist throughout the germination period and for two weeks after germination. Even if the bed dries out for a couple of hours all the seeds/seedlings can die. However, birch seedlings grow rapidly when they are given ideal growing conditions.