Birch VS Aspen - How to tell difference

Discussion in 'Tree and Plant ID Database' started by jooleyen, Jun 7, 2011.

  1. jooleyen

    jooleyen Tracker

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    I can't seem to find a good guide to telling the difference based on the bark. Anybody have a comprehensive guide?

    And also, for those who have seen Ray Mears's birch tapping video, that bark sure doesn't look smooth like any birch I've seen. What gives?

    Thanks

    YouTube - ‪Ray Mears: Bushcraft - Four Seasons (1 of 6)‬‏
     
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  2. PMSteve

    PMSteve Old Time Outdoorsman Supporter

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    Mears is British.

    They not only sound intelligent, they ARE vastly more intelligent than we in the states. :4:

    So it stands to reason that if Mears points at a tree and says it's a birch, well then, who are we to argue? Even if it's an Elm? :50:

    .
     
  3. BUSHscandi

    BUSHscandi Guide

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    I see birch like that all the time over here in england, i think that the green colour is lichen. But also the bark gets thick and brown in places. Its definately birch, but i can give no reason as to why it looks like that. Im sure someone more knowledgable will come along.
     
  4. Howie

    Howie Guide Bushclass III

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    Aspen have the tell tale "knots" over them through the bark
     
  5. Rilo

    Rilo Tracker

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    Most birch bark I've found will be smooth and peeling off the tree.
    There are lots of species of birch, so it might help to find out which are common in your area.
    I've only come across white aspen here, but the larger trees have furrowed, dark bark at the base, transitioning to smooth grey bark near the top.
    Something I've found helpful this time of year is to make a tree ID based on the leaves and then study the bark. There really aren't too many good sources for bark ID, even though it's really important in the winter.
     
  6. dead short

    dead short Scout

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    Reminds me of when I took a forestry class in college at Lake Superior. We started learning our trees in September and didn't test on them till the final in December. Leaves weren't of much value then. Everything deciduous was by bark, stems, buds and leaf scar.
     
  7. wheelgun

    wheelgun Tracker

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    The bark on an aspen feels a bit wax-like.
     
  8. jloden

    jloden Guide Bushclass I

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    DISCLAIMER: I know next to nothing about trees and plant ID so take this for what it's worth, and for those who are more knowledgeable please correct me if I'm wrong on any points :)

    I've seen birch that look like that even around here in New Jersey, doesn't seem odd looking for a birch to me. I've seen birches that range from that to bright white, smooth and papery.

    Maybe some of this info will help:

    http://www.ehow.com/about_6368798_difference-birch-trees-aspen-trees.html
    http://www.gardenguides.com/108324-difference-between-birch-tree-aspen-tree.html

    The second link seems particularly useful. Regarding the bark it says:

    We don't have Aspen around here but I've seen them out west before. My understanding is that Aspen bark does not have lenticels (the horizontal lines in the bark) like birch, and the two trees have different leaf shapes.

    -Jay
     
  9. deepwoods

    deepwoods Tinder Gatherer

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  10. Old Philosopher

    Old Philosopher Banned Member Banned

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  11. jloden

    jloden Guide Bushclass I

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    Wow, you aren't kidding. I didn't realize they could look so alike from a distance at least.
     
  12. Bush Otter

    Bush Otter Supporter Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    I would think they are close in appearence but after reading a native legend about the dark enverted slashes on the bark of the birchcalled thunderbirds I think I could tell the difference , I don't think we have many if any around here in WV and Tx either.
     
  13. matt.s

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    It happens to most of our birch. I'm not sure why, but think it's related to the fact we have a maritime climate over the entire island. Very frustrating trying to get enough bark for a project. ;)
     
  14. Crustysnow

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    Aspen often have that appearance around here.
     
  15. Crustysnow

    Crustysnow Scout

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    +1 on that
     
  16. Crustysnow

    Crustysnow Scout

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  17. Chris

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    We have them here too. They're called hengebjørk in Norwegian (Latin: Betula pendula) ; directly translated, it's Hanging Birch. the bark gets thick and broken-up looking, for lack of a better term, when they get older.
     
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2011
  18. alukban

    alukban Guide

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    I think the key statement in one of the links was "horizontal lenticels" for birch - none for aspen.
     
  19. Old Philosopher

    Old Philosopher Banned Member Banned

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    Except when someone forgot to tell the aspen. ;)

    [​IMG][​IMG]
     
  20. PMSteve

    PMSteve Old Time Outdoorsman Supporter

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    A little known (or maybe not) fact about Aspen trees is that they grow in groves but more correctly, the groves should be called "Clones". All of the trees in a grove of Aspen are identical down to their DNA, therefore a grove is a single organism and they share a single root system.

    The largest living organism on the planet is the "Pando" Aspen Clone in Fish Lake National Forest in Utah. It covers over 106 acres and weighs an approximate 13 million pounds and counting. Who knew? :14:

    Google: Pando Aspen Clone


    .
     
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  21. Old Philosopher

    Old Philosopher Banned Member Banned

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    Who'd a knowed? Interesting. So aspen are the "fungi" of the tree world. ;)
    Many mushrooms have the same characteristic. I read somewhere that there was one fungi whose underground root system covered many acres, also.
     
  22. PMSteve

    PMSteve Old Time Outdoorsman Supporter

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    Lets get a bunch of steaks and find that sucker! :50:
     
  23. Old Philosopher

    Old Philosopher Banned Member Banned

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    Found it!

     
  24. jooleyen

    jooleyen Tracker

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    Sweet. I'll be sure to try that ID technique by looking at the flow of the branches - sounds like the easiest way so far to me.
     
  25. alukban

    alukban Guide

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    Those are definitely not horizontal lenticels, i.e. blistering pores. I would not have called that birch. In birch, they seem to come in straight lines - "line pores" or little pores that form along a line. I guess the thing for me is those lines on the aspen did not actually blister to make a pore.


     
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  26. mosquitomountainman

    mosquitomountainman Banned Member Banned

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    IMG_5807.jpg

    This is what the bark on a birch tree here looks like. Notice all the "paper like" pieces hanging loose? The bark you'd use for making things is thicker and just under this outer, paper layer. This is a fairly large birch tree in our area. Aspen trees have tight, smooth bark.
     
  27. Old Philosopher

    Old Philosopher Banned Member Banned

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    It's pretty difficult to say that birch bark looks just one particular way. The Mears video shows a birch that doesn't have bark anything like a N. American Paper Birch.
    There are enough species of birch tree to provide a lot of different looking barks.

    Birches of North America include

    Betula alleghaniensis - Yellow Birch (B. lutea)
    Betula cordifolia - Mountain Paper Birch
    Betula glandulosa - American Dwarf Birch
    Betula kenaica - Kenai birch
    Betula lenta - Sweet Birch, Cherry Birch, or Black Birch
    Betula lenta subsp. uber - Virginia Round-Leaf Birch (endemic, Cressy Creek, Smyth County, Virginia)
    Betula michauxii - Newfoundland Dwarf Birch
    Betula minor - Dwarf White Birch
    Betula nana - Dwarf Birch or Bog Birch (also in northern Europe and Asia)
    Betula neoalaskana - Alaska Birch or Yukon Birch
    Betula nigra - River Birch or Black Birch
    Betula occidentalis - Water Birch or Red Birch (B. fontinalis)
    Betula papyrifera - Paper Birch, Canoe Birch or American White Birch
    Betula pendula - Silver Birch, a European birch commonly planted as an ornamental, becoming naturalized
    Betula populifolia - Gray Birch
    Betula pubescens - Downy Birch also known as White Birch, European White Birch, Hairy Birch (Greenland; also in Europe incl. Iceland, northern Asia)
    Betula pubescens subspecies tortuosa - Arctic Downy Birch (Greenland; also in subarctic Eurasia incl. Iceland)
    Betula pumila - Swamp Birch

    Birches of Europe and Asia include

    Betula aetniensis - Sicilian Birch
    Betula albosinensis - Chinese Red Birch
    Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis - North Chinese Red Birch
    Betula alnoides - Alder-leaf Birch
    Betula austrosinensis - South China Birch
    Betula carpatica - Carpathian Birch
    Betula chinensis - Chinese Dwarf Birch
    Betula dalecarlica
    Betula ermanii - Erman's Birch
    Betula grossa - Japanese Cherry Birch
    Betula jacquemontii (Betula utilis subsp. jacquemontii) - White-barked Himalayan Birch
    Betula kamtschatica - Kamchatka birch platyphylla
    Betula mandschurica - Manchurian Birch
    Betula mandschurica var. japonica - Japanese Birch
    Betula maximowiczii - Monarch Birch
    Betula medwediewii - Caucasian Birch
    Betula nana - Dwarf Birch (also in northern North America)
    Betula pendula - Silver Birch
    Betula platyphylla (Betula pendula var. platyphylla) - Siberian Silver Birch
    Betula pubescens - Downy Birch also known as White Birch, European White Birch, Hairy Birch (Europe incl. Iceland, northern Asia; also in Greenland in North America)
    Betula pubescens subspecies tortuosa - Arctic Downy Birch (subarctic Eurasia incl. Iceland; also in Greenland in North America)
    Betula szechuanica (Betula pendula var. szechuanica) - Sichuan Birch
    Betula utilis - Himalayan Birch
     
  28. L.V

    L.V Guide Bushclass I

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    I do not know the NA plans so well, but if you press the bark (white) of paper birch with your fingernail and move it a bit (like trying to slice it with the nail) does it make kind of sticky, rubber and/or blackboard feeling to your nerves. With aspen the park is just softer and not so sticky/rubber like. ??
    This is what I though is the situation with North-European birch and aspen species if I can trust my memory of my fingertips..

    Is it same in NA that the birch is the mother of the spruce. I mean there is often first a birch and then spruce grows with it in almost same spot. Like in paper birch picture.
     
  29. Old Philosopher

    Old Philosopher Banned Member Banned

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    I've never seen fir/spruce take over a birch grove. When the coniferous trees grow in with the birch, it's always been my belief that the seeds were deposited by animals (squirrels, birds?) visiting the birch trees.
     
  30. mountain joe

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    I will try and get out tomorrow and get close up pictures of the bark of both species for you. there really is a discernible difference once you know what the differences are. We have the really rough gnarly barked birches as well as really pretty clean clear barked ones and they can be side by side. We have aspens here as well. I'll make no promises but I plan on being out and about doing some filming for my youtube channel and I'll try and make the tree barks a priority.
     
  31. crimescene450

    crimescene450 Scout

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    Yup, most fungi are huge underground networks. The underground part is called mycelium. Mycelium are thread like, and pretty thin. They spread throughout the soil to absorb food for the fungi. 1 cubic centermeter can contain as much as 1 km of mycelium.

    Fungi also play an important role of redistributing nutrients. My mentor made the analogy: "If you were to imagine every plant as a person at home on their computer, the fungi is like the internet that connects them all."

    Also, in case anyone didnt know, the actual mushroom part is just the fruiting body of the fungi. It releases spores. When a spore hits the ground, it starts forming more mycelium.

    Another fun fact. Fungi has 2 different pronounciations based on plurality.

    'Fun-ji' is plural. 'fun-guy' is singular.
     
  32. forester

    forester Scout

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    Interestingly there has been recent research, much of it at Utah State University, into aspen DNA and to my knowledge "grove" is in fact now the preferred manner of referring to a stand of aspens as it has been proven that there may be several genotypes may occuring within an otherwise indistinct grove. The same genotype may appear in clumps and variously through a grove, and even occasionally at a great distance from the main grove, but sometimes all stems are not of the same genetics, and therefore not necessarily a clone, although many have been proven to be so. So anyhow, we call them groves around here. Not sure what they call them in the lake states, or elsewhere.

    Aspen is also one of the most widely distributed tree species in north america, might look a little different when covered with repeated scars from wintering elk, than it does with scars from lovestruck teenagers, and so on.
     
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  33. Old Philosopher

    Old Philosopher Banned Member Banned

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    The aspen in the right hand picture in my post #19 bears the scars from a bear.
     
  34. forester

    forester Scout

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    I saw that. I have seen where bears climbed up the same aspen trees several years based on the scars.
     
  35. mountain joe

    mountain joe Scout

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  36. jooleyen

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    MountainJoe! Thank you so much. That really helped me.
     
  37. mountain joe

    mountain joe Scout

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    you are welcome. Glad it was of use.
     
  38. OzaawaaMigiziNini

    OzaawaaMigiziNini Guide

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    Aspen usually has a blue or greenish hue to the white bark. Leaves are also a giveaway. Birch leaves won't shake in the wind as crazily as an aspen.

    Ojibway say that long ago Gtchi Manitou made the birch white so we would all know it was a special one. Aspen got jealous and turned itself white, and when it realized it's error, it could not change back to its' old colour. From then on, the aspen trembles in fear that Gtchi Manitou would find out.
     
  39. OzaawaaMigiziNini

    OzaawaaMigiziNini Guide

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    Wonderful video Mountain Joe
     
  40. Susan

    Susan Tinder Gatherer

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    Birch vs Aspen

    Thanks so much for the visual of the two. I'd seen them independently and couldn't tell the difference but your side by side pix made it most clear. I won't mistake one for the other again! (And I can finally tell my Dad I've learned the difference...)
     
  41. darodalaf

    darodalaf Guide

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    The ends of birch boughs tend to weep whereas aspen boughs are more stiff and grow horizontally.

    Also, as mentioned, the thick, waxy, intact outer bark layer that is often noticeably greenish/yellow under close inspection.

    Does anyone know if aspen has any good uses?
     

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