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Downy Birch

Betula pubescens

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Betulaceae (Birch)
Deciduous tree
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
30 metres tall
Bogs, fens, floodplains, gardens, heathland, mountains, riversides, roadsides, woodland.

Green, no petals
Male and female catkins appear on the same tree. Erect female catkins are shorter and green. Male catkins hang loosely in groups of 2-4. Often hybridizes with Silver Birch making identification tricky.
Small dry one-sided winged fruits, called 'achenes'.
Deciduous. Ovate, pointed and with serrated margins. Light green in spring, darkening and then turning yellow or orange in autumn. Leaves are often hairy underneath.
Other Names:
Brown Birch, European Birch, European White Birch, Hairy Birch, Hairy Birch, Moor Birch, Mountain Birch, White Birch.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Betula pubescens, also known as downy birch or white birch, is a medium-sized tree native to Europe, Asia, and North America. It is a member of the Betulaceae family and is closely related to other birch species such as Betula pendula (silver birch) and Betula papyrifera (paper birch). Downy birch is characterized by its white bark, small, round leaves, and small, drooping branches. It is a hardy tree that is adapted to growing in a variety of environments, including cold, dry climates, and is often found in forests and other wooded areas. Downy birch is valued for its wood, which is used for a variety of purposes including fuel and papermaking. It is also sometimes used in landscaping and as an ornamental tree due to its attractive appearance.


Downy Birch (Betula pubescens) is a deciduous tree species native to Northern and Central Europe, Asia, and North America. It is also known as the White Birch, European White Birch, or Moor Birch.

Downy Birch is a medium-sized tree that can grow up to 30 meters tall with a slender trunk and a spreading crown. The bark is white or silver and covered with small black spots, giving it a distinctive appearance. The leaves are oval-shaped and have a dark green color on top and a pale green color underneath. In the fall, the leaves turn a yellow-gold color.

This tree species is valued for its ornamental qualities and is often used as a landscape plant in parks and gardens. It is also a popular species for bonsai cultivation. Downy Birch is also known for its wood, which is used in furniture, flooring, and cabinetry due to its fine texture and light color.

Downy Birch is a pioneer species, which means that it is one of the first trees to colonize areas that have been disturbed or disturbed. This species is often found in areas that are disturbed by fire, logging, or other natural events, as it is well adapted to grow in these conditions.

In addition to its ornamental and commercial value, Downy Birch is also an important source of food and habitat for wildlife. Many species of birds, mammals, and insects rely on the tree for food, shelter, and nesting sites.

Downy Birch is also known for its medicinal properties. The sap from the tree has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat a range of ailments, including skin conditions, respiratory problems, and digestive issues. The sap is rich in vitamins and minerals and has a high sugar content, making it a valuable source of nutrition.

The tree's leaves and bark are also used in traditional medicine. The leaves contain a compound called salicin, which has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties similar to those of aspirin. The bark is used to treat skin conditions and to promote wound healing.

Downy Birch is a hardy species that can grow in a wide range of soil types and climates. It is able to withstand cold temperatures and can thrive in areas with low annual rainfall. It is also able to tolerate wet soils and can grow in areas with high rainfall.

Despite its many benefits, Downy Birch is not immune to pests and diseases. Some of the most common problems that affect this species include leaf spot, cankers, and stem borers. However, with proper care and maintenance, these problems can be minimized and the tree can be kept healthy and thriving.

Another important aspect to consider when planting Downy Birch is its effect on the ecosystem. As a pioneer species, Downy Birch can play a crucial role in the regeneration of disturbed areas by providing a suitable habitat for other species to establish and thrive.

It is also a valuable tree species for managing water resources. Its root system is able to absorb large amounts of water, making it an effective tree species for preventing soil erosion and reducing the risk of flash floods.

Furthermore, Downy Birch is also an important species in terms of carbon sequestration. Like all trees, it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it in its biomass, making it an important species in the fight against climate change.

However, it is important to note that Downy Birch is not without its drawbacks. The tree is allelopathic, which means that it produces chemicals that can inhibit the growth of other nearby plants. This can limit the diversity of the ecosystem and make it difficult for other species to establish.

Another potential problem with Downy Birch is its invasiveness. In some areas, the tree has spread beyond its natural range and has become invasive, displacing native species and altering the ecosystem. It is important to consider the potential for invasiveness when planting Downy Birch and to choose a location where it will not cause harm to the ecosystem.

In conclusion, Downy Birch is a versatile and valuable tree species that can play a crucial role in the regeneration of disturbed areas, water management, carbon sequestration, and traditional medicine. However, it is important to consider its potential drawbacks and to plant it in a location where it will not cause harm to the ecosystem.


Downy Birch trees filmed in Hows Wood, Cumbria on the 29th April 2023.


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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