Ode to Yellow Birch

February 20, 2016

One of my favorite trees for winter interest is Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis). The bark is not white like its brother, or even yellow like the name would suggest, but cherry which exfoliates to copper and gray, dappled with white lenticels. The bark becomes brown and platy as it gets older.

We have three of these planted in the backyard that have been there for 25 years. One of them is declining due to shade, but the other two are going great. They get half day sun and are protected from the west, north and south winds. If we have a serious drought of four weeks or more, I do need to water them.

The twigs have a great wintergreen flavor, and I love breaking one off when I pass to chew on it. The trees are lucky that they’re more than 100 feet from the back door or there might not be any limbs left on them. The Native Americans used the younger twigs to brush their teeth. As it turns out, the sap has certain antibacterial qualities.

The best place I've found these trees in the wild is The Indiana Dunes National Lake Shore, at Cowles Bog near Dune Acres. There are a number of specimens to see along with many other species that are not commonly seen in the Chicagoland area. Cowles Bog is worth a visit anytime of year, but in spring the bog comes alive with flowers and budding trees giving a prehistoric feel.