Plant of the week Betula ermanii 

betula-ermanii-2Winter is time for the stems to show off what they do. For so many months of the year, they remain hidden from site, supporting and supplying the foliage on which the plants need to survive. The leaves have their final glory in the autumn and then the underdogs come to the front and start showing off their beauty

Betula ermanii is also one of my favourite of all the silver birches. This beautiful birch is a native of mainly East Asia, being found in Russia, Korea, Japan, finding its was up as far as lake Baikal, Siberia. This wide range just shows how tough this underplanted tree is. It will also grow in a wide range of soils, including acid and alkline, deep loam to really thin soils, indeed in Russia, it is called the Rock Birch.

Now what makes this birch so special? well it could be the heart shaped leaves, dried make a lovely homemade valentines card? it maybe the hieght, as unlike a lot of birches it is a little slower growing, making a tree up to 75ft tall (most cases a lot smaller) in 50yrs? coud it be the 30mm catkins borne in the spring? but for me, its the peeling creamy pinkish white of the stems, lined with the wider brown breathing pores (or lenticels as they are properly called) that really make this beautiful tree stand out to me. in the depths of winter, it shines out, like a torch in the pitch black

There are sereval forms grown of this beautiful tree including ‘Hakkoda Orange’ that has more of an orange flaking bark, raised from seed collected by Seki Takahashi in 1981 and selected by Kenneth Ashburner. Kwanak weeping is more of a shruby form obtained from the Kwanak Arboretum, Korea by Liverpool Botanic Gardens in the 1980’s. Polar Bear as its name suggests, a pure white form.

There is one form however that stands heads and shoulders above the rest and that is one called ‘Grayswood Hill’. This form was selected for its pure white bark in the gardens of Grayswood Hill in Surrey. It is a stunning tree that is sometimes sold as B. costata in this country. In Grayswood Hill, it made a tree over 75ft tall.

They do require very little maintainence as plants go, it’s worth keeping out for the dreaded Sawfly that can strip the plant bare of all leaves within days. Feed and mulch wise, worth feeding it and mulching the base of the trees for the first few years until they become established. Pruning wise they require very little, some of the lower branches lifted so the stem can be clearer is about all they require. If reduction is required, it would be better to thin out the branches to a lower one rather than completely ruin the tree by lopping the whole thing back. If you would like the bark to shine in the winter months, it is best to was it with a mix of warm water and washing up liquid and a sponge rather than remove the loose bark. Sometimes when removing the loose bark, you can cause damage to the stems resulting in the bark being spoilt with scar tissue.

Nursery wise it can be found in all good tree nurseries

Gardenwise its well worth looking for it at Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, Kew Gardens and also at the national collection holders of Betula that are based at Wakehurst Place, Stone Lane Gardens, Devon, The Millhouse , Shrewsbury, Shropshire and Hergest Croft Gardens, Herefordshire.

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