Betula papyrifera : Paper Birch


Scientific Name:

Kingdom: Plantae


Class: Dicoteldonae (two seed-leaves)

Family: Betulaceae (Birch Family)

Genera: Betula (Birches) (Latin name for birch. A very ancient name. Perhaps from Celtic betu=tree.)

Species: papyrifera (Gk. papyros=papyrus or paper reed + Lat. ferre=to bear.)

Synonym(s): B. Alaskana, B. resinifera, B. alba

English Name(s):

Paper Birch, Alaskan Paper Birch, White Birch, Canoe Birch

First Nation Names:




  • Plants are monoecious(bi-sexual).
  • Twigs often dotted with wart-like glands.
  • Bark marked with horizontal lenticels (pores).
  • Bark on immature trees reddish, or purpleish-brown.
  • Bark on mature trees variable, often creamy white, sometimes silvery, orange, reddish, purplish-brown. Coming off in flakes or sheets.
  • Trees, 5-20 meters tall. Usually with a singe trunk. Sometimes with a number of trunks arising from a single point.


Reproductive Parts:

  • Flowers imperfect (single gendered) in catkins.
  • Fruiting catkins (female catkins) deciduous.
  • Male catkins1-4 per bud, male flowers in clusters of 3, with 2 stamens per flower,
  • Female catkins drooping, 1.5-4.0 cm long by 0.5-1.5cm wide.


  • Fruit are numerous small single seeded nutlets.
  • Nutlets winged.
  • Wings of nutlets wider than the nutlet.

Not to Be Confused With:

  • Can hybridize with B.occidentalis which results in small trees with charactaristis of both species. And some confusion.



  • All of our birches can hybridize with eachother.
  • When B.glandulosa (Dwarf Birch) hybridizes with B.papyrifera (Paper Birch) the result is a shrub/tree that is very much like B.occidentalis (Water Birch). It has been suggested that B.occidentalis may be of hybrid origin.

Life Cycle:

  • Long lived perennial.
  • This tree is relatively short lived. 80-120 years is a normal life span.

Seasonal Cycle:

  • Catkins appear before the leaves.
  • leaves deciduous.
  • Fruiting catkins mature by Autumn shedding the seeds throughout the Autumn and winter. The snow below a Paper Birch tree is often littered with hundreds of seeds.
  • Leaves turn bright yellow in Autumn.


Animal Uses:

  • The seads are much loved by many species of birds.


  • Prefers acidic soils and wet but well drained situations.
  • Woodlands, stream banks, slopes and terraces at lower elevations.






    • In the spring for about 2 weeks around the turn of the month from April to May, the birch sap can be harvested. It can be drunk as is or boiled down into a syrup.
    • Making syrup takes 80 liters of sap to yield 1 liter of syrup. To learn more about birch syrup making in Central Yukon visit Uncle Berwyn's Yukon Birch Syrup.

    Traditional Gwich'in:



      • Bark could also be stored for later use. When needed it could be soaked in water to soften it up.
      • Birch bark canoes were also made by the Gwitch'in. Large smooth pieces with no knots are needed. Roots were used to stitch it together and spruce pitch with ash was used to water seal the seems.
      • Birch bark was made into containers such as baskets, plates, and bowls. It was harvested in the spring as that is when it is softest.
      • Canoe frames were also built out of the wood and covered with canvas.
      • Rotting birch wood was considered good for smoking skins.
      • The bark was carried by people out on the land as it is excellent fire starter.
      • To make bark containers bark is folded into shape. Then a birch root is layed along the rim and a second root is sewn around the rim to make the basket stiff and to hold it in shape.
      • Was the favorite wood for snowshoes.
      • Wood was traditionally used for: net needles, paddles, drum frames, chairs and furniture, toboggans,snow shovels and scoops, handles for knives,axes,awls,slingshots,dog whips, and sleds.


      • Inner bark was used to make a tea for stomach ailments.
      • Roots or buds could be boiled to make a wash for the eyes of people afflicted by snow blindness.
      • Saplings were cut down and all parts were boiled in a pot. The dark juice like tea would only last a week before spoiling. One would take a half cup in morning and evening for heartburn and uclers.


      • Birch sap was collected by cutting an upsidedown V notch, curling the bark back to make a hook and hanging a small bucket to collect the sap. The sap could be drunk or made into syrup by boiling.

      Traditional Other:






              Pendent catkins

              Paper Birch in winter

              Bark of young tree

              Illustration from: Illustrated Flora of BC

              Range Maps

              World Range: Boreal N.A.; from LB & NL to AK, south to PA, NY, MN, NE, CO, MT, and WA.

              Prov/State Abrev. List

              In Yukon: Found throughout the territory save for alpine areas and the Norh Slope.

              To Top Of Page