Water, Spring, Red, Paper Birch Birch Betulaceae Betula occidentalis Hook.
This often many-trunked shrub or small tree may attain heights commonly up to 8 meters tall. The young, often pubescent twigs bear abundant, conspicuous crystalline glands. The older bark varies from dull gray to coppery brown to reddish-brown. It has conspicuous lenticels oriented perpendicular to the length of the branches. The leaf blades vary from glabrous to pubescent, often with tufts of hairs in the axils of the veins on the lower surface. The 2 ½ to 4.5 cm long leaves vary from having rounded bases and apices to being slightly acute. The margins are usually sharply, doubly serrate. At maturity the pistillate catkins are 2-4 cm long and droop. The membranous wings on the pubescent fruits are about equal in width. The drooping, cylindrical staminate catkins are 3 to 6.5 cm long. Many people have an allergy to the pollen. The copious sap can be harvested in the spring and made into syrup. Its sugar content is not as high as that of maples. The inner bark can be dried and ground into flour in emergencies. One can also cut the inner bark into strips and boil to eat like noodles or simply eat them raw. The young twigs can also be boiled to make a tea. Oil of wintergreen comes from birches.

Betula occidentalis Hook. Water, Spring, Red, or Paper Birch Betulaceae Birch Family

A small tree or many trunked shrub up to 10 m tall, each up to 4 dm in diameter
young twigs are covered by resinous, crystaline glands which gives them a rough appearance and may also be covered by pubescence
trunks are different from other species in that they have lenticels oriented perpendicular to their length on the coppery, dark reddish, or reddish-brown or gray, smooth, non-peeling bark

ovate to obovate leaf blades can be either glabrous or pubescent, but usually glandular, 2-4.5 cm long the apex varies from rounded to acute and the leaf base is ordinarily rounded, but sometimes is slightly acute the leaf margins are once or twice sharply serrate
pistillate catkins are 2-4 cm long and 4-10 mm in diameter with protruding ciliate, puberulent bractlets.
The catkins disintegrate when the fruits are released

the pubescent nutlet is winged by membranous wings about equal in size as the nutlet

usually along streams, but sometimes in moist forests

Alaska to California, chiefly east of the Cascades to southern Saskatchewan, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado to northern New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Northern Arizona.


This is not the birch that is utilized for cabinetry because the wood is too soft and too small to be of Commercial use. Other birches such as the Black Birchhave useful medicinal properties. The twigs can be chewed for curing bad breath or just for pleasure. The outer bark can be separated from the inner bark and made into a survival food eaten raw, ground into flower for baking or added to soups. It is said to contain beta carotene, calcium, vitamins B1 and B2, potassium, sodium, and silicon, xylithol, betulinal and a glucoside. Made into an infusion, it can be used to treat edema, bladder infections, kidney stones, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and eczema and other skin ailments. In the spring, tapping will yield a sap which is somewhat like maple syrup when boiled down to a mere fraction of its original volume.

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Photos and content written by Karl Holte, 2002