The River Birch
Being one of the first trees to green in the spring, it is only natural that the River Birch has a strong connection to fertility. In Celtic folklore, the birch tree symbolized fertility, renewal and purification. In festivity, Celts would burn bundles of birch trees to drive out spirits of the old year. The birch tree held significance during Beltane (now celebrated as mayday) because of its representation of spring and new life. The trunk of a river birch was often used as a maypole at these celebrations. To this day, we can still see the green leaves of the river birch before many other blooms of spring. River Birch trees have been around for many years, not only serving the ancient Celts with a symbol for fertility but also serving the Native Americans as a resource for canoe’s and waterproof paper.
River Birch trees grow to be between 60 and 80 feet often along rivers and have many physical properties to distinguish them from other trees. They have a short lifespan for a tree, but grow very quickly. Their leaves are somewhat diamond shaped and are a medium/dark shade of green. River Birch bark is very interesting and its appearance depends on its age. Younger River Birches have grey bark with brown patches. As they grow older the bark becomes very dark. These trees do their best in moist soil and do not fancy shade.
River Birches are great for preventing erosion on river banks. Their roots hold the ground together and love the damp soil. They do not grow very tall, but their spread out branches and leaves give privacy. If you have a lot of water in your yard with moist soil, they will be very happy as long as they also get some sun!
The River Birch trees at Reiman Gardens can be seen between the Events Plaza and the South Patio as well as along the trail in the Stafford Garden. Next time you see one of these interesting trees, think about the ways people of the past used their bark and their image. I like to imagine the Native Americans serenely canoeing down the Skunk River in a River Birch canoe, or the ancient Celts dancing around a living Birch to celebrate the spring. And remember, if you are seeing green leaves in the dawn of spring, they are likely those of a River Birch.
– Tasha, Reiman Gardens’ Intern