The Downy Birch tree (Betula Pubescens) is a fast growing (occasionally making growth at 80-100cm per year) very attractive broadleaf deciduous tree that can reach an ultimate height of some 25 metres (80ft). It is a tough native species of Birch similar to Silver Birch except for the downy covering on the shoots. The shape of the Downy Birch is more upright as the branches have a slightly less weeping habit.
Betula Pubescens is in fact the most prolific of all Birches grown in Scotland. The bark is initially a reddish brown colour and is quite smooth to the touch before maturing to a smooth silvery white. The Downy Birch tree has both male and female catkins it is the female catkins that appear upright on the branchlets drooping as they ripen and are approximately 3cm (1-2ins) in length. These pretty female flowers can contain many thousands of winged seeds which ripen in late summer and early autumn. The male catkins appear drooping on the end of the branches and can be longer at 6cm (2-3ins) in length. Where the seeds of the Downy Birch are freely scattered by the wind over open ground colonies of young seedlings which are much favoured by insects and birds are common.
Downy Birch trees when grown as woodland provide protection and shelter for many spring flowers such as primroses, violets and bluebells before the leaves arrive in spring providing too dense a canopy thereby restricting the light which then in turn allows shade loving plants to flourish. While Downy Birch trees are home to a wide variety of insects and moths which become a source of food for birds their young foliage is a favourite source of food to Red Deer which can affect the survival numbers of self seeded unprotected saplings.
Downy Birch (Betula Pubescens) bark can be used for the tanning of certain types of leather but the most common use of the Downy Birch timber when it is harvested is for the manufacture of traditional broomsticks, gates and fences and the brushwood of the Downy Birch is used in large quantities for racecourse jumps.
The sap of the Downy Birch tree is still used today in Scotland commercially to manufacture Silver Birch wine. Foresters will often plant the Downy Birch trees as a nurse crop for other young timber trees. Birch trees on this page are suitable for general planting in any reasonable soil but will thrive in moist conditions. If you have a rabbit problem we strongly recommend protecting newly planted Betula Pubescens with spiral tree guards. We will supply full cultural instructions with your order. We strongly recommend Rootgrow and Bonemeal to help establish newly planted Downy Birch trees, these may be found on the left hand menu.