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The Tuesday tree! Upland birches

September 16, 2013

We are up on the hill again this week in the new series of Tuesday trees.  Close to that extraordinary old rowan which I stopped to admire last week, there are a couple of almost equally ancient looking birches., 16.9.13-1


There is so much that I love about the birch: its feminine grace, its tenacity in harsh growing conditions, its pale green and golden leaves, its aura of a wisdom beyond the grasp of most of us. Most of all, perhaps, I love the environment which birches create around themselves, particularly in wild places.

The trees pictured here are growing (like the rowan) beside the mossy remains of a wall, reminding us that few places even in the Highlands are truly ‘wild’. This is land, however, that is too high and thin for cultivation. Sheep are put to pasture here, deer populate it and pheasant and partridge are reared: otherwise the trees have the place almost to themselves.,16.9.13-2


The deep-rooted birch creates a nutrient-rich shade welcoming to ferns, moss and wild flowers. You’ll often find primroses and wood anemones under it in the spring, wild blaeberries (blueberries) for picking in the late summer, and bracket fungi on its bark in autumn. It gathers around itself an entire micro-climate of beauty. Fairyland is an insipid word for this botany and deep natural ‘magic’, but I can’t think of a better one to describe what I see and sense when in the presence of ancient upland birches like these.,16.9.13-3


Incidentally, if you are interested in reading about the native trees of Scotland in greater depth, the website Trees for Life has detailed and fascinating summaries on each species, covering both practicalities and folklore.

You might enjoy the winter woods in Birches by a frozen loch.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Toffeeapple permalink
    September 17, 2013 12:25 pm

    One of my favourite trees, yours are in a beautiful setting.

    Thank you for the link to Trees for Life, I shall enjoy reading it.

  2. September 17, 2013 9:16 pm

    I, too, love birch trees. And these you have introduced to us are stunning examples. I am inspired by their ability to weather all storms and everything nature has to throw at them (including probably being nibbled by your deer!) and yet they remain. They are so stoical, and as you say, feminine, in the best possible sense. Thanks for sharing these with us!

    • September 17, 2013 10:31 pm

      Yes indeed, they are fine examples of female stoicism! There is nothing feeble about their grace.

  3. September 18, 2013 8:25 am

    Those are beautiful old trees, and I love the mossy ruined wall and lush ferns. I love birches in autumn, too, when their leaves turn yellow and seem to be just suspended on invisible branches.

  4. Erika W. permalink
    September 18, 2013 10:25 am

    I wonder if we have subconscious memories of pagan centuries when some trees were worshiped that we often personalize them? Birches are female to me and Oaks are male–nothing unusual here I suppose except that Rowans are neither and a little magical and dangerous because of it. Centuries ago, In my mother’s country of Lithuania, a girl could avoid unwelcome marriage by wedding a tree which became her husband for as long as she, or the tree, lived.

    • September 19, 2013 12:36 pm

      That’s really interesting. I see birch, oak and rowan in the same way. I’d never considered, however, that rowan might feel a little ‘dangerous’ because of being indefinable – I think you have a really good point there. And your story from Lithuania is just fascinating! What a way to escape an unhappy marriage. I think a good solid, sheltering oak could make a wonderful husband. 🙂

  5. September 21, 2013 4:15 pm

    That top image is straight out of Tolkien again, DB. You can almost hear them whispering to each other as they bend closer. I’m another lover of birches, especially as they are one of the very few trees which grow in the North-West Highlands. We have a beautiful and very feminine specimen in our garden on the north coast which I cherish.

    • September 23, 2013 10:59 pm

      Oh, I see what you mean! Tolkien’s worldview, for those sympathetic to it, does tend to colour all interactions with trees.

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