The Library of Entertaining Knowledge.
A Description And History of Vegetable Substances, used in The Arts, and in Domestic Economy.
Timber Trees: Fruits.
Illustrated with wood engravings.
London: Charles Knight, Pall Mall East.
Longlamn, Rees, Orme, Brown, & Green, Paternoster-Row; Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh; Robertson & Atkinson, Glasgow; Wakeman, Dublin; Willmer, Liverpool; Baines & Co., Leeds; And G. & C. Carvill, New York.
London: Printed by William Clowes. Samford-street.
Vegetable Substances, Part I. Timber Trees. Chapter V. Birch, Alder, Maple, Lime, Horsechesnut, Poplar, Willow / Birch and Alder (Betula)
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IN situations where better sorts can be had, the birch and alder are of comparatively little value as timber-trees; but as they thrive in many situations where no other tree, save the pine, will grow, and where even that is stunted and unprofitable, they are deserving of some consideration.
The birch is a native of cold and inhospitable climates; and the dwarf birch is the last tree that is found as we approach the snow in elevated regions. At the island of Hammerfest, lat 70° 40', the dwarf-birch, in the sheltered hollows between the mountains, rises to about the height of a man; and in the low branches which creep along the ground, the ptarmigan finds a summer shelter, where it breeds in security. Naturalists affirm that the birch-tree constitutes the principal attraction to the birds which are found in such plenty in high northern latitudes; the catkins affording them food in the spring, and the seeds during the remainder of the year.
The Common Birch (Betula alba) is a graceful tree, and throws out a pretty strong and very agreeable fragrance. When it arrives at a considerable size, the branches hang down or ",weep;" and as they are sometimes thirty or forty feet long, and not thicker than a common packthread, they are very beautiful, especially when the points of them are laved in a clear mountain-stream. Coleridge calls the Weeping Birch "the lady of the woods."
Though the people of more favoured places rather despise the birch-tree, and leave it to the turner, out of which to make some of the smaller of his wares, or employ the shoots as mop-handles and the twigs as brooms, there are situations fit which it is among the most valued and valuable productions of nature.
In those parts of the highlands of Scotland where pine is not to be had, the birch is a timber for all uses. The stronger stems are the rafters of the cabin; wattles of the boughs are the walls and the door; even the chests and boxes are of this rude basket-work. To the Highlander, it forms his spade; his plough, and, if he happen to have one, his cart and his harness; and when other materials are used, the cordage is still withies of twisted birch. These birch ropes are far more durable than ropes of hemp; and the only preparation is to bark the twig, and twist it while green.
In ancient times, both in Britain and other parts of Europe strong and light canoes were made of the
tough bark of the birch; and it is still used. for the same purposes in the northern parts of America. The species used for canoes by the Indians and French Canadians, is called the canoe-birch (Betula papyracea or Betula nigra). In good soils it reaches an elevation of seventy feet. The weight of a canoe that will hold four persons does not exceed fifty pounds.
The peasantry in some parts of Northern Europe thatch their houses with the birch, weave the long fibres into mats and twist them into ropes, and even grind the inner bark to mix with their bread. The bark is used in the simple dyes, and also in tanning. The Laplanders use it in the preparation of -their rein-deer skins; and in Russia the hides which are so esteemed for binding books are prepared with the empyreumatic oil of the birch. A weak but not unpleasant wine may be obtained by draining the sap in March, boiling it, and then fermenting it. The Northern people also make very heat baskets and boxes of the bark, the Laplanders carving the large knots which the trees put forth, into vases, which, although fashioned with their rude knives, have much of the beauty of turnery. In Kamchatka also it is formed into drinking-cups.. The wood - of the birch , on the banks of the Garry, in Glengarry, Scotland, is cut into staves, with which herring barrels are made. It is an excellent wood for the turner, being light, compact, and easily worked; and for undressed palings, and gates, such as are used in the sheep countries, few timbers are superior to it. It is not very durable, however, but very cheap, as it thrives upon soils that are fit for little else, and sows itself without any assistance from art. It grows upon rocks which one would think absolutely bare; and such is the power of its roofs that we have seen them separate stones several
tons in weight ro reach the soil. The black birch of America has been imported into this country. It is compact and rather handsome, but it soon decays. Birch makes a very good charcoal.