The Lady of the Woods - Silver Birch
Updated: Feb 15, 2021
One of the incredible things about getting out in nature is how all our senses become heightened.
This week I have been thinking about the value of really focusing on listening when you are out in the natural world. Making a point, of stopping, still and just simply listening. Letting our busy world slow down and take the time to marvel at the wonderful sounds all around us. When I do this I find lots of interesting things to see, explore and discover and deepen my connection with nature. I’ll give you some examples of some of my favorite sounds to listen out for just now. I bet you’ll have lots of different sounds you hear too!
Taking the time to be still and listen is a great way to spot birds, often when I think nothing is about stopping for a minute to listen opens up a world of interest. Birds calling to each other or parent birds calling to their young, birds making their alarm calls when predators are near. I often spot the woodpecker because I hear its claws scraping on the bark high up in the Scots Pines even before its typical rat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat. Once you spot where the noise is coming from it gives you the opportunity to look & to explore a new nature story.
Just now I listen out particularly at the wild raspberry bushes to hear the sways of bees, busying themselves constantly. I find watching bees fascinating. Doing their busy important work pollinating the trees and wildflowers with pollen. Once you start looking there are so many different kinds of bees to see and some great resources available to identify species. I see a lot of Tree Bumblebees, Buff Tailed Bumble Bees, Early Bumblebees. With their pollen baskets all loaded up. Listen to them buzz and see how many you can spot.
This brings us on nicely to our tree to look out for this week as it is a master of Psithurism: which is ‘the sound of the wind whispering through the trees’. I love to just stop, close my eyes and breathe in the noise of the leaves rustling. It’s one of my favourite calming sounds. Have you ever noticed that different trees make different sounds? Here's a short video of psithurism.
The Silver Birch
The Silver birch is a tall slender, gentle looking tree that can grow up to 30 meters. But this dainty tree is actually one of the most hardy trees there are. It has a very slight trunk, slighter branches and even slighter twigs that can seem like they are threadlike. With its thousands of small pointy leaves weighing down the flexible branches it weeping frame makes the unmistakable sound of the rustling leaves of the Silver Birch tree in the wind.
Have a look at our video below for ways to identify the Silver birch and check out it’s identification traits below.
Leaves: Look out for its small glossy green triangular shaped, pointed leaves.
Bark: Very distinctive smooth white silvery bark higher up, then prominent grey/green scars, cracks and knobbly bumps towards the base. Branches and the inner bark beneath the white are both a russet – reddish brown colour.
Shape: Slender tall and dainty, with branches laden with leaves weeping downwards swaying in the wind.
Value to Wildlife
The Silver Birch is a pioneer species and can be found growing in pretty much any habitat. I have 3 growing in my garden that have self-seeded themselves.
As the trunk and leaves are so slight a woodland with Silver Birch in benefits as the sun light can get through the tree to the ground below. Meaning wildflowers can thrive. (Compare this to the ground beneath a Beech tree). A Silver Birch can be home to over 300 types of insect life, including aphids feeding on the leaves and in turn ladybirds feeding on them. It is home to many moths including Buff Tips and Angle Shades. Its papery seeds in July are eaten by Greenfinches and Siskins.
A common feature on Silver Birches is the Witches Broom Gall, which is caused by parasites like a fungus or by insects laying eggs. The tree responds by gluing lots of its twigs together in great big hard clumps!
The Silver Birch has extensive root system which allows it to gain a lot of nutrients to sustain the life within it, so for a ‘dainty’ tree its bark is incredibly strong. A birch tree only lives for around 100 years, and when they do fall you will notice the inside of the tree rots before the bark leaving a ring of its strong bark remaining.
It’s ability to find and retain water makes it a favourite with fungi and there are several fungi species only associated with birch for example the Birch Polypore and Birch Bolette.
Finally the Silver Birch in Scots folklore is seen as a symbol of renewal and purification, it’s always a pleasure to see and to hear it out in the woods.
Good luck in spotting it!