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Betula pubescens
Downy birch

Downy birch (Betula pubescens) is a fast-growing and relatively small deciduous tree. Although quite similar to silver birch (Betula pendula), downy birch is distinguished by its hairy leaves and shoots.

The species’ native range overlaps with that of the silver birch, but reaches further north and east.
Due to the tree’s small size and rather poor timber, the wood is mostly used for pulp and fuelwood. However, downy birch is of great ecological importance as it strengthens birds’ and insects’ biodiversity and contributes to watershed protection and soil stabilisation. The tree also forms a protective habitat for seedlings of more frost-sensitive species, such as the European beech (Fagus sylvatica) and Norway spruce (Picea abies). With this ability, and with a canopy allowing a fair amount of light to pass through, the downy birch is suitable for reforestation and natural regeneration of forest habitats. In Croatia, the tree is used as an aromatic and medicinal plant.

Downy birch is cold-hardy and is one of the few deciduous trees found in, and even observed above, the alpine tree line in Nordic countries. Here, the species often appears as a dwarf tree or small bush. The downy birch is able to grow on poor soil, but is light-demanding and does not tolerate long periods of drought.

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