cherry birch, sweet birch

Betula lenta Linnaeus

Black birch yields a variety of useful products. From the Hudson River Valley to Lake Erie, except along the higher mountains, in moist or dry, gravelly soils, this tree is well known to boys and girls for the wintergreen flavor of its twigs. The wood is heavy, strong, hard, close-grained, and dark brown in color with yellowish sapwood, and is used for fuel and furniture, especially as a substitute for cherry or mahogany. Oil of wintergreen, used medicinally and for flavoring, is distilled from the twigs. Birch tea is made from scrapings of inner bark of twigs steeped in hot water.

Bark - on branches smooth, close, not peeling, dark reddish brown in color with conspicuous, light colored, elongated breathing pores; on older trunks breaking into long, thick irregular plates almost black in color.

Twigs - slender, smooth, light reddish brown in color, with numerous, short, spur-like lateral twigs; strong wintergreen flavor when chewed.

Winter buds - terminal bud present on spur-like lateral branches only, about 1/4 inch long, conical, sharp-pointed, reddish brown in color, buds on season's growth usually bending away from twigs.

Leaves - alternate, simple, ovate, 2 to 5 inches long, sharp-pointed, with fine doubly serrate margin, found usually in pairs, not opposite on lateral spurs.

Fruit - an erect, cylindrical, cone-like structure as in other birches, 1 1/2 to 2 inches long, without stalk; the winged nutlets falling in autumn and winter.

Distinguishing features - strong wintergreen flavor in twigs and bark; leaves usually in pairs on spurs.

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