Tree IDs #4: Silver Birch (Betula pendula)

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Blog entry by Gary Fixler posted 02-26-2009 05:01 AM 10116 reads 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: The Coast Coral Tree (Erythrina caffra) Part 4 of Tree IDs series Part 5: First mystery tree - help me ID it! »

I believe this will be the last of the trees I post in this ongoing series that I’ve already identified. I think it’ll be more fun for me and anyone else following along to go on the hunt for a tree’s name and species along with me than for me to simply post an encyclopedic entry of each tree. I didn’t take proper pics of the 2 or 3 others I’ve identified either, so they’re not worth posting yet anyway. I do intend to follow up identifications with more about the trees we’ve identified once we’ve [hopefully] solved each one’s mystery.

Silver Birch (Betula pendula)

This somewhat ratty-looking specimen sits outside my front door in LA. After quite a bit of searching through birch varieties, I feel fairly confident that it is indeed a silver birch (Betula pendula), also called European Weeping Birch, European White Birch, or Weeping Birch, though I am happy to be proven wrong with adequate examples to the contrary. As the tree ages, it can develop large, dark, diamond-shaped fissures which appear as though the bark has split open.

bark of the Silver Birch (Betula pendula)

cut limb of Silver Birch (Betula pendula)

These trees should be 15-25m tall, and mine certainly isn’t, but after a year or two of seeing it every day, it wasn’t until I started this blog and took some pictures of it that I noticed something quite obvious. The top half of the tree has been cut off, either by the owner (I’m renting), or a previous tenant. It’s 6” across at the cut.

top half of Silver Birch (Betula pendula) cut off

One of the things distinguishing silver birch from a close relative, Downy Birch, (Betula pubescens) is the tiny warts that grow all along the younger limbs, as seen here:

tiny warts all over young limb of Silver Birch (Betula pendula)

This silver birch is loaded with catkins, each of which is comprised heavily of tiny seeds that look incredibly like little winged insects – a bit like citrus whiteflies. In my own experiments, these take to the wind like ash from a fire, floating on breezes almost too gentle to feel.

Silver Birch loaded with catkins

Silver Birch catkins not yet opened

Silver Birch catkin losing its petals and winged seeds

Silver Birch catkin seeds and petals falling into hand

Silver Birch catkin seeds look like small flies

The simple leaves appear [to me] to be deltoid, and serrate, though you may decide for yourself.

Silver Birch leaves, dead on tree in late winter

Silver Birch leaf, dead in late winter

Silver Birch leaf, dead on tree

Silver birch is one of the species of birches used in birch plywood, and trolling google for betula pendula plywood will bring up many links.

Next time in this series, I’ll be presenting a tree I don’t know at all. I have a feeling someone here will know what it is. Then I can research all about it, and add it to my knowledge-base. What fun!

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

7 comments so far

View Damian Penney's profile

Damian Penney

1142 posts in 5273 days

#1 posted 02-26-2009 05:04 AM

No way! Keep posting :) I’m really enjoying this series.

-- I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it. - Pablo Picasso

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4663 days

#2 posted 02-26-2009 05:08 AM

Thanks Damian! These are fun.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 5270 days

#3 posted 02-26-2009 05:13 AM

I wish you were here. I have a few trees that I can’t figure out!

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Karson's profile


35279 posts in 5682 days

#4 posted 02-26-2009 05:30 AM

This is a board from a tree that I’m trying to identify.

Some more pictures are here

The bark pockets go all the way through the log.

I’ve got about 4-5 boards of this wood. The sawmill owner says he’d seen one other log and he thought it might be pin oak.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4663 days

#5 posted 02-26-2009 06:09 AM

Gary – no guarantee I’d know either! Though it would be fun to try. I am sort of developing the beginnings of the set of skills necessary to identify trees and their wood, but it’s going to take a long time. Maybe you can get a bunch of pictures of it as I’ve been doing and let the group here help out?

Karson – that’s some neat looking wood there! This shot actually reminds me of banksia pods, currently on sale. Obviously, that’s not what it is, though. A site that’s helped me out when identifying some things in the 4 boxes of assorted hardwoods I picked up through Rockler earlier this year was Hobbit House. Here’s his page on misc. oaks. Pin oak is in there, though I don’t particularly see the matchup. Something else that could help would be a high-resolution scan, or macro photo of the cleanly-sawn end grain. He has an example of that here for red oak. It’s amazing how varied the end grains are between woods, even of the same genus when viewed end-on, and enlarged like this. A lot of woods look really similar from their flat-sawn faces.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View Martin Sojka's profile

Martin Sojka

1893 posts in 5754 days

#6 posted 02-26-2009 08:53 AM

Great series, Gary! Keep them coming ;)

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4663 days

#7 posted 02-26-2009 09:26 AM

Thanks Martin! I’ll do my best, but from now on, I won’t know what most of the trees are, so it’ll be mostly descriptions of observable traits with nice photos, and the group will have to help track down the names. I will research on my end meanwhile, and hopefully we’ll eventually nail down every tree in my area! It’s a lofty goal. I see new types of trees here almost daily. It’s amazing the variety in the neighborhoods of LA, and I’ve found some really pretty locations and trees that I look forward to capturing and bringing to the group here.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

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