White birch

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White birch grove shelter
MFA# 2013.5562
White Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)


Any of several white-barked birch trees, such as Betula papyrifera and Betula alba, native to northeastern North America or Betula pendula and Betula pubescens, native to Europe. White birch produces a light colored hardwood that is tough, flexible and naturally waterproof. It used for interior trim, millwork and small items such as spools, bobbins, handles and toys. A red dye was produced by native Americans by boiling the bark from the white birch with ashes of cedar bark.

Synonyms and Related Terms

paper birch (Betula papyrifera); white birch (Betula alba); silver birch (Betula pendula); European white birch (Betula pubescens); abedul (Esp.)

Physical and Chemical Properties

  • Heartwood is light reddish brown: Sapwood is nearly white
  • Grain is straight to slightly wavy; Texture is fine and even with a low natural luster

Working Properties

  • Easy to work with hand and machine tools, though boards with wild grain can cause grain tearout during machining operations.
  • Turns, glues, and finishes well.

Resources and Citations

  • R.J. Adrosko, Natural Dyes in the United States, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, 1968
  • Dictionary of Building Preservation, Ward Bucher, ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York City, 1996
  • Edward Reich, Carlton J. Siegler, Consumer Goods: How to Know and Use Them, American Book Company, New York City, 1937
  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971
  • Random House, Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, Grammercy Book, New York, 1997
  • The American Heritage Dictionary or Encarta, via Microsoft Bookshelf 98, Microsoft Corp., 1998

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