Downy Birch
(Betula pubescens)
leaves <6 cm



Winter twig

female catkins
Female catkins


distribution map

The leaves are alternate, round to oval, 15-50 mm long and hairy, on the veins beneath, or in their axils. The margins are coarsely and mainly singly toothed. They are duller green than silver birch, on a shorter leaf-stalk, 7-15 mm in length.

ID check

Downy beech is a deciduous tree with a single trunk up to 25 m in height. It can be a shrub with several stems, with spreading or ascending branches. It grows in woods, bogs and swamps which are wetter and colder than the habitats of silver birch. It grows to an altitude of 760 m in Scotland.

The young shoots are softly hairy but have no white warts.

The bark on mature trees is silvery to the base.

Old trees often develop nest-like bunches of twigs (witch's-brooms) caused by a gall-forming fungus.


  • Like silver birch, downy birch is a source of food for over 200 species of wildlife including several kinds of moth.

  • The bark is waterproof and resistant to fungal attack.

  • The sap is rich in sugar and when tapped in spring can be made into birch wine, if some honey is added.

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