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not a sufficient footing for their roots, and became an easy prey to winds. In these places, Maupertuis found as many trees blown down as standing. He examined several of them, and was surprised to see that, in such as had lain long, the substance of the wood was entirely gone, but the bark remained a hollow trunk, without any signs of decay” (Gilpin's Forest Scenery, vol. i. p. 71.) In the mines of Dworetzkoi, in Siberia, a piece of birch wood was found changed entirely into stone; while the epidermis of the bark, of a satiny whiteness, and shining, was exactly in its natural state, perfectly well preserved, and without being coloured by the iron. It would be difficult, says the relater of this fact in the Nouveau Du Hamel, to find a more striking proof of the durability of this thin pellicle, so light and so delicate in appearance, and which the ancients used with so much propriety instead of paper,
before the invention of that material. The buds and leaves, in early spring, abound in a resinous matter, an aromatic and agreeable fragrance from which may be perceived at a considerable distance from the tree; and the leaves, when bruised, whether in a recent or dried state, are also bitter and aromatic. The wood is employed by wheelwrights, in France, for the felloes of wheels; and, in the interior of Russia, in the construction of small rustic carriages : the felloes of the wheels are sometimes made of one entire stem of a young birch tree, bent by heat, and retained in its place by ties of the spray. On the Continent, chairs, and many kinds of furniture, are made of birch wood; and many articles of cooperage, turnery, &c. Sabots are also made of it; but they are not so good as those made of alder, and several other kinds of wood, admitting the water when they grow old. For cabinet-making, the birch is of little use till it has attained the age of sixty or eighty years; at which age it is little liable to warp, or to be attacked by worms. The tree occasionally produces knots of a reddish tinge, marbled, light, and solid, but not fibrous; and of these, which are much sought after by turners, cups and bowls are made by the Laplanders with their knives. The young shoots and branches make hoops, brooms or besoms, and ties for faggots, baskets, wicker hurdles, and other purposes to which the hazel or the basket-willow is applied; and, when peeled, are used for making whisks for frothing up syllabubs, creams, and chocolate. Birch hoops are very durable, from the conservative influence of the bark.
In Poland, Russia, Sweden, Norway, and Lapland, small bundles of the twigs, which have been gathered in summer, and dried with the leaves on, are used in the vapour-baths, by the bathers, for beating one another's backs, in order to promote perspiration. The inhabitants of the Alps make torches of the branches; and the Highlanders, candles of the bark, twisted into a ropelike form. Sandals are also made of it, and thin pieces of the epidermis are placed between the soles of shoes, or in the crown of the hat, as a defence against humidity. The bark is used as coping to walls, and is placed over the masonry of vaults under ground, as lead is in England, to prevent the moisture from the soil from penetrating through it. It is even wrapped round sills and the lower parts of posts, and other pieces of wood inserted in the ground, or resting on it, to preserve them from decay. The charcoal of the birch is much in demand for making gunpowder, and for crayons. The leaves are bitter to the taste, and not willingly eaten by any animals, except rabbits and goats ; but, when they are young and fresh, they may be given to cattle and sheep; and they are dried for this purpose throughout a great part of Sweden, Norway, and Lapland. Medicinally, the leaves are said to be resolvent and detersive; and it is added, that persons afflicted with rheumatism, sleeping on a bed stuffed with birch leaves, experience a perspiration which affords them great relief. A yellow colour is obtained from them, which is used for painting in distemper, and for dyeing wool. The buds and the catkins afford a kind of wax, analogous to that of bees. The ashes are rich in potash: 1000 lb. weight of wood, burnt green, will give 10 lb. 12 oz. of ashes, which will afford 1 lb. 4 oz. of potash. În this respect, the birch occupies the 55th place in a list of 73 trees. In the birch, as in all other trees, the potash is most abun
dant in the bark; and, consequently, the spray always yields more in proportion than the trunk. The bark is much employed for tanning leather, both in Britain and on the Continent. The birch appears to have been first used in England for this purpose in Evelyn's time, as he speaks of " Mr. Howard's new tan, made of the tops and loppings of birch.” The bark yields a yellowish brown dye, and, combined with alum, a brownish red. These may be considered as the principal uses of the birch tree in central Europe; but there are others to be noticed, which are peculiar to Norway, Lapland, Russia, and the Highlands of Scotland.
In Lapland and Kamtschatka, the huts are constructed with birch branches covered with turf; and faggots of the spray with the leaves on, in cases formed of the skins of reindeer, serve for seats during the day, and beds at night. An interesting view of some of these
1552 huts is given by Dr. Clarke in his Scandinavia, of which our fig. 1552. is a copy. The bark of large trees, cut into lengths of 3 ft., and about 18 in. or 2 ft. broad, serves the Laplanders as species of cape, or cloak, a hole being made it, in the centre, to admit the head. Sometimes several pieces are used, with the holes only at one end; and these, put over the head, and hanging down on every side, form as complete a protection from perpendicular rains or snows as if the man were slated. The same people, and also the Russians, make the bark of the smaller trees into boots and shoes; the legs of the boots being taken from trees about the same thickness as the human legs, and, consequently, having no seam. The bark is also made into baskets, boxes, mats, and cordage for harnessing horses and reindeer, and the inner bark into thread; while all the fragments are carefully preserved for lighting fires, or twisting into candles. Reindeer skins are tanned by steeping them in a decoction of birch spráy, mixed with salt; and woollen stuffs, being boiled in the same decoction, without the salt, are dyed yellow, or yellowish brown, according to the length of time which the process is continued. The Finlanders use the dried leaves as tea. The bark is also extensively used, in Sweden and Norway, in roofing houses. The rafters are first covered with boards, on which plates of birch bark are laid in the same way as slates are in England; and the whole is covered with turf and earth, to the depth of 1 ft. or more, to exclude the heat in summer, and the cold in winter. The earth over the bark is sometimes cultivated; though it is most commonly kept under grass. Dr. Clarke mentions that, “on some of the roofs of the Norwegian cottages, after the hay was taken, he found lambs pasturing; and on one house he saw an excellent crop of turnips.” (See Encyc. of Agri., ed. 2., p. 111.) In Kamtschatka, the inner bark is dried and ground, like that of the Scotch pine, in order to mix it with oatmeal, in times of scarcity. It is also said to be eaten in small pieces along with the rue of fish. The sap of the birch is made into beer, wine, and vinegar; and a sugar is extracted, and a spirit distilled, from it : 240 bottles of sap give 6 lb. of syrup, which is used in Russia in that state as sugar, without being crystallised. “During the siege of Hamburg by the Russians, in 1814, almost all the birch trees in the neighbourhood were destroyed by the Boshkirs, and other barbarian soldiers in the Russian service, by being tapped for their sap.” (Penny Cyclo., art. Betula, vol. iv. p. 348.) The beer is produced by fermenting the sap with yeast, hot water, and hops, in the usual manner. The sugar is procured by boiling and evaporation;
and the wine is made as follows: Birch Wine. The sap is first obtained by boring a hole, 1 in. or 2 in deep, in each tree, near the
ground, and on the south side of the trunk. In England, several holes are sometimes bored in the same tree at once; but, in France, this method is thought to deprive the tree of its sap too suddenly. Each hole should have a kind of losset fixed in it, which may be made of a piece of elder wood, with the pith scooped out, or of a large quill. The outer end of this tube is placed in a vessel or large bladder, to reserve the sap. In some places, the collectors of the sap cut off the extremity of each branch, tying a bladder or vessel to the end of the wounded part. When a sufficient quantity of sap has been collected, the hole in the tree is stopped with a wooden peg; or the end of the wounded branch is covered with pitch. This operation is always performed in spring; and most sap is said to be procured after a very severe winter. Several trees should be bored at the same time, in order that a sufficient quantity of' sap may be obtained in one day, as it is spoiled by being kept. It has been observed that the sap flows in greatest abundance about noon. When the wine is to be made, the sap should be boiled with moist sugar or honey, in the proportion of four pounds of sugar to every gallon of liquor. While boiling, the scum is taken off as fast as it rises, till the liquor is quite clear. It is then worked with yeast in the usual way. The juice and rind (pared very thin) of a lemon, and of a Seville orange, may be added to every gallon of clear liquor, and will be found a great improvement. Some persons also put a few twigs of sweet briar into the cask when the wine is tunned, to give it a perfumed flavour; and anciently it was the custom to put cinnamon and other spices into this wine. In Moscow, they add dried sprigs of mint. The wine should be kept three months before it is bottled, and twelve months before it is drunk. Birch wine has an agreeable flavour, and is considered very wholesome. That made in Russia effervesces like champagne.
Birch Oil is obtained from the bark, by a kind of distillation, which is thus effected :— An excava. tion is made in the soil, on the side of a bank 10 ft. or 12 ft. deep, and in the form of an inverted cone, like a common limekiln, which is lined in the inside with clay. The bark, being collected, and placed in the kiln, is covered with turf, and then ignited: the oil tows through a hole made in the bottom of the kiln, into a vessel placed to receive it, from which it is transferred to casks for exportation. The liquor produced consists of oil and pyroligneous acid, and is used for tanning bides, to which it gives that powerful fragrance, so well known as peculiar to Russia leather. The oil, when purified, is quite clear, and is used in medicine, both internally and externally; and the pyroligneous tar-like liquor, which is separated from it, is used for greasing wheels, and for other purposes.
In the Highlands of Scotland, Sang observes, birch may be said to be the universal wood. “ The Highlanders make every thing of it: they build their houses of it; make their beds, chairs, tables, dishes, and spoons of it; construct their mills of it; make their carts, ploughs, harrows, gates, and fences of it; and even manufacture ropes of it." (Pl. Kal., p. 80.) The branches are employed as fuel in the distillation of whisky; and they are found to contribute a flavour to it far superior to that produced by the use of fir-wood, coal, or peat. Birch spray is also used for smoking hams and herrings, for which last purpose it is preferred to every other kind of wood. The bark is used for tanning leather, dyeing yellow, making ropes, and sometimes, as in Lapland, instead of candles. The spray is used for thatching houses; and, dried in summer with the leaves on, it makes an excellent material for sleeping upon, where heath is scarce. The wood was formerly used in the Highlands for arrows; and the bark, it is said, on the sea coast, for making boats, as that of B. papyràcea is in North America.
In addition to the above, we might enumerate a number of minor uses mentioned by authors, when speaking of the tree as belonging to the most northern parts of Europe; and some of which, we have reason to believe, are now become obsolete. Among these are what Evelyn calls “the whitest part of the old wood, found commonly in doating birches,” from which, he says, is made“ the ground of our effeminate-formed gallants' sweet powder ;” and of the quite consumed and rotten wood,” he says, is “gotten the best mould for the raising of divers seedlings of the best plants and flowers.” (Hunter's Evelyn, vol. i. p. 224.) The use of the birch in artificial plantations, in Britain, is chiefly as an undergrowth, and as coppice-wood. In both cases, it is cut, every 5 or 6 years, for brooms, hoops, wattle-rods, crateware, &c.; every 10 or 12 years, for faggot-wood, poles, fencing, and bark for the tanners, the value of which, in Scotland, is about half that of oak bark; and not oftener than once in every 15 or 20 years, when it is wanted for herring casks. In all these cases, the spray is used for besoms, rods, ties, and similar purposes. In the Highland districts, standard trees are left to attain a timber size. The birch, as already observed, is very frequently used as a nurse to other trees; and especially to the oak, the chestnut, and other hard woods. Many of the extensive oak plantations made by the late Duke of Portland in Nottinghamshire were raised between rows of birch trees, planted two or three years before the acorns were sown; as has been recorded in detail by Speechly, and by Hunter in his edition of Evelyn's Sylva, and in his Georgical Essays. Hedges are, also, frequently made of the birch in poor, mossy, or sandy soils; the tree bearing the shears as well as any ligneous plant whatever. The birch, in landscape-gardening, is an interesting tree, from its form, and
from the whiteness of its bark, which renders it more conspicuous in winter than in summer. Its stem, as Gilpin observes, " is generally marked with brown, yellow, and silvery touches, which are peculiarly picturesque, as they are characteristic objects of imitation for the pencil, and as they contrast agreeably with the dark green hue of the foliage. But only the stem and larger branches have this varied colouring. The spray is of a deep brown, which is the colour, too, of the larger branches where the external rind is peeled off. As the birch grows old, its bark becomes rough and furrowed : it loses all its varied tints, and assumes a uniform ferruginous hue." (Forest Scenery, vol. i. p. 70.). The weeping variety, which, Gilpin says, is sometimes called the lady birch, from “its spray being slender, and longer than that of the common sort, forms an elegant, pensile foliage, like that of the weeping willow; and, like it, is put in motion by the least breath of air. When agitated, it is well adapted to characterise a storm, or to perform any office in landscape which is expected from the weeping willow.” (Ibid.)
The birch, however, being an extremely common tree in various districts, and never being suffered to grow in any quantity, in its native countries, in those soils and situations where other trees will thrive, there are certain associations connected with it which are unfavourable to its use in gardenesque scenery. Nevertheless, it must be allowed that these associations can only be experienced by those who have seen the tree in its native habitats. Natives of Scotland, North Wales, Sweden, Russia, and Germany would regard the birch as indicating poor, sandy, boggy, or rocky soil; and would not place it on a lawn ; from the same feelings that would prevent a London planter from placing there the alder, or any of the common willows. In the gardenesque style, therefore, or in that species of picturesque which is an imitation of nature, and not an identification of her scenery, the birch, in most parts of Europe, would require to be planted in situations where it would not be conspicuous; and never where it would form a leading feature in any general view. The same principle applies in the case of every indigenous tree; and with a force proportionate to the commonness of that tree in the country where the gardenesque plantation is to be made. A residence planted in a style truly gardenesque ought, as we have often observed, to have no indigenous trees in it whatever.
Where plantations are to be made in the elegant or artistical picturesque style, and which are intended to form scenes which will be considered by painters as equally worthy of their study with picturesque natural scenery, and yet never for a moment be mistaken for it, the introduction of the birch must be guided by exactly the same principles as in the gardenesque. It must never be planted in small groups, but always in groups of such a size as to be only seen in association with other trees. The exceptions to this last rule are, situations at a distance from scenery where the birch is indigenous; and these may be considered as occurring in all fertile valleys and plains. However beautiful the birch tree may be in itself, and especially when it assumes the weeping form, it would be inconsistent with sound principles to plant it on lawns either in North Wales or the Highlands of Scotland; though in the neighbourhood of London, and many parts of England, it may be justly admitted, even on lawns, as one of the most elegant of our ornamental trees.
Where the common birch is so favourite a tree as to make it desired in considerable numbers, the only mode of introducing it into artificial scenery in countries where it abounds, is by planting it in avenues, or in geometrical lines; or by having a scene expressly devoted to a fac-simile imitation of nature. Where, in planting a park, the object is to cause it to be mistaken for a natural forest, then, if the soil is poor, the birch may be planted or sown in immense quantities; the object in this case being fac-simile imitation. In every residence, also, where there is an arboretum (and we trust that the time will soon come when there will be no gentleman's seat of any extent without one), the birch, like every other indigenous tree, will, of course, find a place. In residences to be formed in hilly or mountainous scenery where the birch does not abound naturally, no British tree is more ornamental; and the common sort may there be introduced singly, and in groups and masses, along with all the different species and varieties of the genus. Sir Thomas Dick Lauder observes that some birch trees should always be planted near a house, for the very purpose of filling the air with their fragrance, which is given out in great abundance, particularly after rain or heavy dew; more especially in spring, when the resinous matter which produces this fragrance is most abundant on the buds and young leaves.
Poetical Allusions. The birch does not appear to have been celebrated by any ancient writers, though it has been mentioned by most of the modern poets. Shenstone introduces it in his Schoolmistress, when alluding to the birchen rods :
“ And all in sight doth rise a birchen tree,
Which Learning near her little dome did stow;
And work the simple vassals mickle woe :
But their limbs shudder'd, and their pulse beat low;
And shaped it into rods, and tingled at the view." Pope has also immortalised birch rods in his Dunciad. The beauty of the birch tree, and the extreme gracefulness of its foliage, render it a fitting emblem of elegance. Coleridge calls it
-“ Most beautiful
Of forest trees - the Lady of the woods." and Keats describes
“ The silvery stems
or delicate birch trees." Professor Wilson, also, gives a beautiful description of a birch tree in his Isle of Palms.
“ On the green slope
Its branches, arching like a fountain shower." Many other modern poets have mentioned this tree, and described its various uses. Phillips says :
-" Even afflictive birch,
Profuse of nursing sap." and Leyden :
« Sweet bird of the meadow, soft be thy rest :
Thy mother will wake thee at morn from thy nest;
of the leaves of the birch, and the moss of the tree." Numerous other instances might be given ; but these may suffice to show the popularity of the tree among the observers and lovers of nature.
Soil, Situation, Propagation, Culture, fc. In the beginning of the last century (see p. 102.), the Earl of Haddington, who was the greatest and most judicious planter of his time, called the birch an amphibious plant; as it grows on rich or poor, wet or dry, sandy or rocky situations, nor refuses any soil or climate whatever. Though the birch is found in every kind of soil, as Sang observes, “from that of a deep moist loam in a low bottom, to a poor sandy, gravelly, or moorish earth;" or, according to Ray,“ in turfy soil over sand, ” alike in plains and in mountainous situations ; yet it " luxuriates most in deep loams, lying on a porous subsoil, or in alluvial soil, by the sides of rivers, or smaller streams. Even in such situations,” Sang continues, " though among stones and rocks, as on the River Dee, in Aberdeenshire, in particular, the birch flourishes most exuberantly. On the sides of hills, in dry soils, it grows slowly; but on such its timber is most durable.” (Plant. Kal., p. 54.)