During a recent walk through the cemetery after a particularly stormy night, I noticed paper strewn around amongst the graves and was angrily muttering to myself about disgusting humans when I realised it wasn’t paper but bark. The Paper birch (Latin name: Betula papyrifera; other common names: white birch and canoe birch) has quite striking white, sometimes pinkish, bark that peels to reveal a pale orange bark underneath.
The Paper birch was introduced to Europe in the mid 18th century and is still a popular ornamental addition to parklands and large gardens, but it is native to North America, where its oil-rich bark has been used by the indigenous peoples to make various items, from cartons and boxes to canoes and tepees. As the bark will even ignite well when wet, it is a useful fire starter, and it also has medicinal uses, as a poultice on wounds, as a cast for broken bones and for treating respiratory problems. More recently, it has been used to make ice-block sticks and toothpicks, and strips of bark are used to make handicrafts and to decorate floral arrangements. I think I’ll be picking up all that ‘paper’ and bringing it home next time!