This familiar Wisconsin tree is a favorite for many kids because it is easy to identify and it's fun to play with the fallen bark. You will recognize the paper birch tree by the white or silvery papery bark that peels off over time in thin layers and rolls up on the ground. The bark also has dark brown "eyes," or branch scars, scattered on the trunk and small horizontal lines and irregular color with white and yellow patches. In the winter, birch are also easy to identify by the dangling flower clusters in small bunches. These are called "catkins" and they open and release pollen in the spring. They will turn into a soft cone-like fruit that releases winged "nutlets" in the fall and winter winds. Look for them lying on the snow. Paper birch grow quickly in bare soil, but they don t live very long and are weak trees that may break in an icestorm.
The paper birch, sometimes called "canoe birch," reaches 50-70 feet tall. It has oval leaves with large toothed or jagged edges. This birch grows just about anywhere in the state on sand and gravely soil along with pine and aspen. They like to grow in areas that have been burned over. You'll also see them planted as landscape trees in cities throughout Wisconsin.
You ll find wildlife everywhere in an aspen-birch or maple-beech-birch forest. Hairy woodpeckers can sometimes be be spotted perched on the side of the white bark pecking for bugs. Under the leaves you ll find a wide array of salamanders and small mammals.
Birches were once used by northern Native Americans to build canoes, wigwams, baskets, cups, bags, and other useful utensils. Today, these trees are used for making decorative items from birch bark. The wood is use to make everyday products like: toothpicks, toys, paper pulp, flooring, firewood and interior finishes. This unique tree is common in Wisconsin, but it is found in only a few of the northern states. The range spreads north through Canada and into Alaska.