Tuesday, February 24, 2009

100 Species Challenge #39

Specimen #39 River Birch

Betula nigra

AKA red birch, water birch, and black birch (nigra means black in Latin)

"I" of GAIN spotted this during a search for a geocache. I keyed in the wrong east/west coordinates, so we did not find it. But we did scare up three deer and a lone Canada goose. We'll be back. We have to get to 200 finds. We must!

Our recent study of trees in winter has definitely heightened our tree awareness and knowledge.

You can see the shaggy bark here. It peels in a very irregular way that varies by the tree. These particular trees were near the water, but we have noticed many urban ones. Just scan some front yards for river birches. There are many.

According to the website of Native American Ethnobotany (University of Michigan - Dearborn), the Cherokee nation chewed river birch leaves for dysentery; used an infusion of the bark for colds, stomach problems, 'milky urine;' and a decoction of the inner bark for the same issues.

From the Illinois State Museum website, I read that:

"It is the only spring-fruiting birch and the only native birch whose range includes the southeastern coastal plain. River birch does not tolerate shade, a characteristic of "pioneer" species (plants that are the first to colonize an open habitat). It is one of the first species to colonize streamsides and sandbars when flood waters recede because it produces many seeds which germinate quickly and its seedlings make rapid growth in early development. During early stages of growth, the seedlings have a high soil moisture requirement, but neither seedlings nor mature trees can survive flooding that lasts well into the growing season."

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