White Birch

Ojibway: Wiigwaas
Latin: Betula papyrifera Marsh.


Common Names
  • Alaska paper birch
  • Alaska white birch

Small to medium-sized, broadleaved hardwood with a small, open crown of spreading and ascending branches. Branchlets are slender and a reddy-brown. On young trees, trunk bark is reddish-brown but turns to its characteristic which colour as the tree matures. The trunk generally divides low innto several arching branches.


In the late summer, staminate flowers are preformed in
catkins 2-2.5 com (0.75-1 in.) long at the ends of twigs and
lateral shoots. These mature and grow in length to 4-10 cm
(1.5-4 in.) in the following spring.


Alternative, simple, pinnately-veined, ovate with an acute tip and rounded base and doubly serrate margins. Petiole is slender.


Averaging 16 m (54 ft.) tall.


Well-drained sandy soils are favoured by the tree, but it tolerates a wide range of soil textures from gravel to silt as well as organic bog or peat soils.


Canada and southern Alaska as well as most northern states in the U.S. Some other paper birch populations can be
found in parts of Colorado, Montana, the Eastern Cascades,
the Great Lakes states, and North Carolina.


The bark was fashioned into baskets, storage containers, mats, baby carriers, moose and bird calls, torches, household utensils and, not surprisingly, canoes. The strong flexible wood was often worked ?into weapons such as spears, bows and arrows. Commercially, paper birch is processed into wood chips for the manufacturing of pulp wood and fuel. The wood is simple to work with and readily accepts stains and finishes. The edible sap can be boiled down to make sweet syrup. The sap is also collected to make wine, beer and soft drinks as well as health tonics. Some people chewed birch bark gum resin, wither for its disinfectant properties or perhaps for a slightly energizing effects. In an emergency the tender inner bark can be eaten for sustenance. This plant can also be used to alleviate stomach pains.


Please use caution when preparing or eating any part of a plant. Identification of the species and knowledge of a plant’s toxicity are both essential before using any plant species medicinally or otherwise. Please consult with a health professional before attempting to treat any ailment.