A really strange, flaky, scabby looking tree!

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Blog entry by Don "Dances with Wood" Butler posted 01-07-2010 09:33 PM 2253 reads 0 times favorited 22 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I’m fascinated with trees. Their shapes and colors are infinitely varied and I see new wonders every time I start looking for new ones.
This one, however, has a startling appearance and I had to drive the car around the block to come back to it.
It seems to be shedding its bark!
Take a look. I include a close up in case it will help.

Does any one here know what this tree is and what its doing?
Is it always like this or is this a seaonal thing?


-- Will trade wife's yarn for wood.

22 comments so far

View stefang's profile


14608 posts in 2335 days

#1 posted 01-07-2010 10:12 PM

Don, That is a good old Birch tree. I’m not sure why they sometimes shed their bark like that, but the white outer layer is pretty thin and almost paper like, so maybe it just scales off and gets replaced as the tree grows larger.

I don’t know if you are aware of it, but the layer of bark just under the white surface part is pretty waterproff and flexible. The indians used it to make their canoes with and here in Norway and I’m sure a lot of other parts of the world it was used to make everything from shoes and knife sheafs to food containers. It can be shaped and sewn together and so was an important resource to many different cultures.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Don "Dances with Wood" Butler's profile

Don "Dances with Wood" Butler

1051 posts in 2396 days

#2 posted 01-07-2010 10:15 PM

Thanks Mike. We have plenty of those trees around here and you’d think after nearly 78 years I’d have seen them do this before!


-- Will trade wife's yarn for wood.

View Tony Z's profile

Tony Z

205 posts in 2791 days

#3 posted 01-07-2010 10:37 PM

To be more specific, it’s a paper birch, L. -betula papyrifera

-- Tony, Ohio

View Daren Nelson's profile

Daren Nelson

767 posts in 2906 days

#4 posted 01-07-2010 10:51 PM

I would say river birch.

View stefang's profile


14608 posts in 2335 days

#5 posted 01-07-2010 11:34 PM

Here in Norway they used to tap the liquid directly from the Birch tree and make an alcoholic drink from it by fermenting it. I saw on tv some years ago a pair of old brother bachelors who lived in some remote place and it showed them tapping the tree with a wooden spigot pushed into a hole drilled with an auger bit. I’m not sure what month it was, but there was snow on the ground. I think it must have been early Spring. Maybe someone out there knows more about it. Birch beer might be good!

Don’t feel Bad Don, There is very few live trees that I can identify, but we have loads of Birch here in Norway. I have two in my garden.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Don "Dances with Wood" Butler's profile

Don "Dances with Wood" Butler

1051 posts in 2396 days

#6 posted 01-08-2010 12:16 AM

I’ve heard of birch beer here in the states, too.


-- Will trade wife's yarn for wood.

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 2271 days

#7 posted 01-08-2010 12:19 AM

Interesting post…was a great read…

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View JamesVavra's profile


294 posts in 2317 days

#8 posted 01-08-2010 12:39 AM

It’s Betula Nigra (usually called river birch around these parts).


View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

13923 posts in 2984 days

#9 posted 01-08-2010 03:19 AM

in 1974 I worked on a church in Lubec Maine… We took off the original roof, right down to original birch bark paper roof. I think the birch bark was used under the original cedar shake shingles. It was a really old church,built in the 1800’s.

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View Tony Z's profile

Tony Z

205 posts in 2791 days

#10 posted 01-08-2010 03:24 AM

James is right. I was mistaken, it’s River Birch. My Dendrology professor would be very dissapointed in me.

-- Tony, Ohio

View buckeyedudes's profile


148 posts in 2129 days

#11 posted 01-08-2010 03:41 AM

River birch

-- Before you louse it up, THIMK!

View Blake's profile


3441 posts in 2875 days

#12 posted 01-08-2010 04:04 AM

Actually its an Eczema tree. It needs lotion.

-- Happy woodworking!

View glassyeyes's profile


136 posts in 2330 days

#13 posted 01-08-2010 04:58 AM

There’s a very nice hybrid birch, called “Presidential,” I think, that is more resistant to insects and diseases, and the bark is somewhat golden in comparison to a river birch.

-- Now, where did I put those bandaids?

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 2886 days

#14 posted 01-08-2010 06:06 AM

IT’S A RIVER BIRCH I had a lot of them on my place in Missouri. According to the person The University of Illinois sent to access some of my timber said it’s not good for much.

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View stefang's profile


14608 posts in 2335 days

#15 posted 01-08-2010 11:51 AM

What Dan said about Birch being found under shingles on the church roof reminded me that up to recent years they always used Birch bark here in Norway as the underlayer for sod roofs, again for it’s water resistant ability. We still have quite a few sod roofs, but now they use plastic underneath. Another useful thing about Birch is that it requires a lot of water, and is therefore good to plant in relatively soggy places, like somewhere in the garden where you don’t have the best drainage for example.

I’ve been buying large planks of the stuff for years. These are about 15” wide by 3-1/2” thick. Most of it comes from Lithuania and Siberia. Although Birch is a nice wood, and ok to work with I find it to be a bit tough (like tough steak) and while it carves well and all the rest, it requires more work than other woods. I’ve also used it extensively for turning and it doesn’t sand very well either. None of these negatives eliminate it as a good woodworking medium. This is all my personal opinion of course, and it would be interesting to hear what others have to say about it’s workability. Maybe different types of Birch work differently.

Another point I failed to mention was that we heat our house almost exclusively with Birch firewood which burns very clean with minimal soot and therefore doesn’t cake up in the chimney. Yet another thing is that it is mildly bacteria resistant and good to use with food. We use birch sticks in the bottom of a large kettle to boil a traditional Christmas meal called “pinnekjot” (rib meat) which is lamb ribs that have been salted and hung up to air-dry in a cold airy place for two or three months.The birch pins prevent the meat burning on the bottom under cooking. We also have quite a few kitchen utensils made from Birch including spoons wisps, etc.

I was really surprised to see all the posts on this, but Birch is a really an interesting tree with all it’s different uses.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

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