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.
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
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.