Identify Silver Birch

Silver Birch (Betula pendula)

How to Identify Silver Birch


Botanical Name:
Betula pendula

Known Hazards:
The tar present in the bark of this tree has been recorded as causing skin irritation, there’s also reference to an insect that feeds on the sap of the silver birch leaves exuding a chemical called methyl salicylate which can cause irritation of the lungs.

Could be confused with:
There is a huge range of Birch trees that have white, or whiting bark that rips from the base and bark of the tree, none of which are poisonous.

Range and Distribution:
Found growing throughout the UK, North America, Europe, and Northern Asia

Open Woodland and heathland found growing as a pioneer tree, often the first to take over a site. Silver Birch likes alkali soil.

Physical Characteristics:
Silver Birch is a deciduous tree growing from 15-30m tall with a canopy of 5-10m. It tends to have a fairly slender trunk growing to a maximum diameter of 40cm.

The bark on the trunk and branches begins golden brown turning a silvery-white colour with age which can often be seen peeling away from the tree, as it ages the bark begins cracking and splitting open revealing a brown scar.

The new shoots are thin and hairless, containing either male catkins at the tip or are shorter holding female catkins, which droop from the tree beginning green, turning yellow and later brown when they drop their small, 1-2mm, winged seeds in mass.

The light green leaves, fading to yellow in autumn, have short stalks 3-5cm, are triangular in shape with a broad base, double-toothed serrated margins, and a slender pointed tip.

Edible Use:

Sap: Edible, drunk as water, boiled to syrup, wine, cordial, toffee, ice cream, bbq glaze, sauce, sweetener

Leaves: edible when young, in salads.

Young Catkins: Edible,

Bark: edible, ground into flour.

The bark of silver birch can be used as a diuretic and mild laxative. All parts of the silver birch can be used as a detoxifier and tonic for helping remove waste products from the urinary tract.

This tree can often be found growing in abundance in a single location, somewhere that is a new space allowed to turn wild is a common spot to find it, there’s a range of mushrooms that grow in association with this tree giving it other edible purposes and to help with identification of mushrooms

To test that the sap is flowing in this tree, meaning it’s ready to tap and extract the sweet sap, you can simply stab the sharp end of a knife through the bark and into the wood, if sap drips down your knife then it’s ready for tapping (around the middle two weeks of March in the UK)

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