I’ve spent many years researching and writing about the uses people make of plants
and what plants mean to the people who use them.

There is a summary of my work and some of the projects I’ve been involved in here


Silver Birch © Aaron Parker

Silver Birch - Betula pendula  Photo: © Aaron Parker

The silver birch with its elegantly drooping branches is, like its closest relatives - some 46 other birch species - an eminently useful tree. Every part of it has been used by peoples of the northern hemisphere - from the sap, now found on supermarket shelves, that gave the peoples of Russia's Volga river a refreshing drink in spring time nearly 1,000 years ago, its twigs and leaves and multi-purpose bark, to timber that forms a major source of commercial paper pulp in Europe today.

A pioneer of cold climates, colonising woodland gaps and forest fringes, improving barren soils for other longer-lived trees, each year the silver birch releases millions of minute seeds from catkins that ripen and disintegrate as autumn draws near. Picked up and dispersed by the wind the seeds can travel far on lightweight papery wings to form new birch trees many miles distant from their parent tree.

Important for wildlife as a source of food and habitat, and fulfilling a significant ecological role, the birches so widely planted in parks and gardens as amenity trees today, also improve the quality of our air by trapping pollution particles in the fine hairs on their leaves.

See:
Ashburner, K. & H. A. McAllister, The Genus Betula: A Taxonomic Revision of Birches, Kew Publishing, 2013
Lewington, A. Birch, Reaktion Books, 2018

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