The Garden Guide

Book: A treatise on the theory and practice of landscape gardening, adapted to North America,1841
Chapter: Section IV. Deciduous Ornamental Trees

Birch trees Betulaceae

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Nat. Ord. (Natural Order) Betulace�;. Lin. Syst. (Linnean System) Mon�cia, Polyandria. The Birch trees are common inhabitants of the forests of all cold and elevated countries. They are remarkable for their smooth, silvery-white, or reddish colored stems, delicate and pliant spray, and small, light foliage. There is no deciduous tree which will endure a more rigorous climate, or grow at a greater elevation above the level of the sea. It is found growing in Greenland and Kamschatka, as far north as the 58th and 60th degree of latitude, and on the Alps in Switzerland, according to that learned botanist, M. DeCandolle, at the elevation of 4,400 feet. It is undoubtedly the most useful tree of northern climates. Not only are cattle and sheep sometimes fed upon the leaves, but the Laplander constructs his hut of the branches; the Russian forms the bark into shoes, baskets, and cordage for harnessing his reindeer; and the inhabitants of Northern Siberia, in times of scarcity, grind it to mix with their oatmeal for food. In this country the birch is no less useful. The North American Indian, and all who are obliged to travel the wild, unfrequented portions of British America,� who have to pass over rapids, and make their way through the wilderness from river to river,�find the canoe made of the birch bark, the lightest, the most durable, and convenient vessel, for these purposes, in the world.* (* The following interesting description of their manufacture, we quote from Michaux. "The most important purpose to which the Canoe birch is applied, and one in which its place is supplied by no other tree, is the construction of canoes. To procure proper pieces, the largest and smoothest trunks are selected; in the spring, two circular incisions are made several feet apart, and two longitudinal ones, on opposite sides of the tree: after which, by introducing a wedge, the bark is easily detached. These plates are usually ten or twelve feet long, and two feet nine inches broad. To form canoes, they are stitched together with fibrous roots of the white spruce, about the size of a quill, which are deprived of the bark, split, and suppled in water. The seams are coated with resin of the Balm of Gilead. Great use is made of these canoes by the savages, and the French Canadians, in their long journeys through the interior of the country: they are light, and very easily transported on the shoulders from one lake to another, which is called the portage. A canoe calculated for four persons, with their baggage, weighs from forty to fifty pounds; and some of them are made to carry fifteen passengers.")