Following trees

I’ve been meaning to join in with Loose and Leafy and follow a tree for a year, but I’ve been prompted to actually do it by Janet at Plantalicious (hawthorn) and particularly Elizabeth from Welsh Hills Again, who is documenting a year in the life of a rowan. I lost mine in the January storms, and I did love it dearly – but her post pushed me into taking a good look at some of the other trees in my garden. Which to choose? It has to be something that sustains interest, as the idea is to post about it once a month, around the 7th, thus documenting the way it grows and changes. Fruit trees would be obvious but – for me, anyway – kind of not the point (plus my fruit trees do not bear looking at closely).

So I took a walk round, and decided to concentrate on one of my three birches – predictable; I’ve rhapsodised about them before. Incidentally, I’m amazed at how the three birches sailed through the winter storms without turning a hair. But this time I want to look at the least assertive of the trio, the one which tends to get overlooked,


the one in the foreground here.

It’s also the smallest, which means I can get its whole height into shot without climbing the walls or leaving the country. Just.

baby birch

I won it. Well, I’d have won it whatever I did.

Let me explain – it was a competition at the library: borrow enough books, answer a simple question and win a tree seedling. I entered, but so did fewer people than trees available, so we all got one (and I suspect some people got two). At that time, about eight years ago, it was roughly three feet tall. And I’ve no idea what birch it is – any guesses? It’s got gorgeous orange bark,


but it becomes paler as it gets older, with the newer branches being quite bright and the trunk beginning to mellow to a runny honey colour in places. It could be a form of paper birch, which I guess would tie in to it being a prize from the library. I don’t particularly care – I love it anyway…

The very newest branches are grey and soft and fuzzy, which shows best against the light.

baby branches

There are plenty of buds but – despite the lovely warm weather – no sign of any leaf action quite yet. There are, however, masses of rather perky catkins:


I’ve never really examined the scaly nature of birch catkins at this stage before… birches, of course, are wind pollinated, and there tens to be quite a lot of pollen when they do go ping, but happily it never seems to trigger my hay fever.

Taking such a close look at this tree is something I hardly ever do, and it will be interesting to follow the its development and change over the year. I do take it for granted – it’s got neither the ridiculous height nor the shimmering bark of its compatriots – and it will be so good to give it the attention it deserves. And it’s set in the middle of the meadow (with a nicely cleared circle around its base; wonder how long that will last), so it will be good to lift my eyes upwards as well as concentrating on the exciting things happening at ground level.

birch in meadow

Maybe it’s not so surprising that the birches survived the storms. Their flexibility (in all sorts of ways) has served them well – the oldest known Betula fossils go back to the time of the dinosaurs, just, the Upper Cretaceous. They were probably most diverse about 45 million years ago but they’re not doing badly at present, quite at home in a huge range of habitats. And in my garden. It will be interesting to learn more about them, as well as appreciating this particular – baby – example as the year goes on. And it will also be interesting fighting my way through the meadow towards it as the grasses grow up… and up…


13 Comments Add yours

  1. Pauline says:

    All my silver birch trees started out with russet coloured bark, before finally peeling to white. I have Jaquemontii, Ermanii and Papyriferra which are now showing some of their white bark, Jaquemontii first, then Papyriferra and now this year Ermanii has just started. My trees were about 7ft when planted and then took another 3 or 4 years before changing. It will be interesting to see which variety you have and to follow it through the year.

    1. kate says:

      That’s interesting, I didn’t know that – I’ve never had one from the size this one was. Now I think of it, though, the smaller of my other two – the one with the stunning, almost luminous, bark – was golden when I got it… I googled papyriferra and found some pics of a young one which looks remarkably like mine. Thanks, Pauline!

  2. Chloris says:

    A birch is a great tree to follow because they look good all year round. Mine regularly get visited by little flocks of long tailed tits. Do you get them visiting yours?

    1. kate says:

      You are lucky – all I seem to get is the Top Garden Robin, shouting threats at all and sundry, and a flock of jackdaws who roost in one of my ashes but do some general visiting. The latter may be part of the reason why there’s not a lot else, though I did stop feeding after Next Door’s Cat took up residence in the undergrowth by the bird table. Maybe I should start again (minus the undergrowth, perhaps)…

  3. Cathy says:

    What a good idea to pick a tree that you often don’t really notice much, Kate – and I have to admit I haven’t noticed catkins on my silver birches so must go and have a look tomorrow… 😉

    1. kate says:

      I feel I owe it something! It sits there, happily doing its thing, and I spend ages looking at the orange hawkweed/primroses/fritillaries/foxgloves instead…

  4. Oh, great choice Kate, really glad you are joining in, a really pretty tree, and good to give it some attention, when its shouty beautiful cousins keep grabbing the limelight. My baby birches are just that, but it will be grand to watch yours over the year and look forward to when my trio are similar proper small tree sized rather than slender sticks with twigs! I do love trees…

    1. kate says:

      I think it’s a great idea – and you’ll be surprised at how quickly your twigs will transform themselves. There wasn’t a single birch in this garden when I moved in in 2002, and now one is taller than the house. Eek.

  5. Christina says:

    Birches are lovely trees, a good choice as they do change and look good in all seasons.

    1. kate says:

      Aren’t they gorgeous? I’m especially fond of the brand new leaves – love the almost fluorescent and neon green of the unfolding ones. Sigh – nearly there!

  6. nice choice Kate, I have downy birches which all have short trunks (owing to the weather conditions), they have brown bark first then eventually go sliver, I had thought it was a mistake at first and that I didn’t have birches but then as the short trunk grew fatter the bark became lighter, Frances

    1. kate says:

      Thanks for the confirmation Frances, I’ll be watching (and I must admit a bit disappointed; I rather like the coppery bark)…

  7. wellywoman says:

    I love the story of how you came by this tree. I am meaning to join in too but I’m a bit snowed under at the moment. It is such a great idea though. I did do something similar with my crab apple and it does make you look that much closer and appreciate things in a much more detailed way.

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