Birch (Betula), genus of trees and shrubs of birch family (Betulaceae). About 50 species are found in Arctic and northern temperate regions worldwide. Ten species are native to Canada: 6 trees and 4 shrubs. Several species, especially the white or paper birch, are widespread throughout the country; other birches are regional (yellow and grey, East; cherry, Ontario; Alaska and water, Northwest). Leaves are alternate, oval to triangular in shape and veined, and have teeth of 2 sizes on the margins.
Birches are best known for their paperlike bark. Most species prefer well-drained soils and good lighting. Paper and grey birches are pioneering species in abandoned fields and burned-over areas. European silver or weeping birch is a popular ornamental. Canadian natives used birches, especially paper birch, for canoes, baskets and kitchen utensils. Today the wood is widely used for furniture and veneers.
See also Aboriginal Uses of Plants.