Birch bark

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A man with a hat made from birch bark in Hankasalmi, Central Finland

Birch bark or birchbark is the bark of several Eurasian and North American birch trees of the genus Betula.

The strong and water-resistant cardboard-like bark can be easily cut, bent, and sewn, which made it a valuable building, crafting, and writing material, since pre-historic times. Even today birch bark remains a popular type of wood for various handicrafts and arts.

Birch bark also contains substances of medicinal and chemical interest. Some of those products (such as betulin) also have fungicidal properties that help preserve bark artifacts, as well as food preserved in bark containers.

A Russian birch bark letter (14th century).

Collection and storage[edit]

Birch bark can be removed fairly easily from the trunk or branches, living or recently dead, by cutting a slit lengthwise through the bark and pulling or prying it away from the wood. The best time for collection is spring or early summer, as the bark is of better quality and most easily removed.

Removing the outer (light) layer of bark from the trunk of a living tree may not kill it, but probably weakens it and makes it more prone to infections. Removal of the inner (dark) layer, the phloem, kills the tree by preventing the flow of sap to the roots.

To prevent it from rolling up during storage, the bark should be spread open and kept pressed flat.

Birchbark box with lid and bottom of birch wood

Working[edit]

Birch bark can be cut with a sharp knife, and worked like cardboard. For sharp bending, the fold should be scored (scratched) first with a blunt stylus.

Fresh bark can be worked as is; bark that has dried up (before or after collection) should be softened by steaming, by soaking in warm water, or over a fire.

Uses[edit]

Finnish fishing net weights made out of birch bark and stones
North American birchbark canoe

Birch bark was a valuable construction material in any part of the world where birch trees were available. Containers like wrappings, bags, baskets, boxes, or quivers were made by most societies well before pottery was invented[citation needed]. Other uses include:

Birch bark also makes an outstanding tinder, as the inner layers will stay dry even through heavy rainstorms. To render birch bark useless as tinder, it must be soaked for an extended period of time.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Tom Vennum, Charles Weber, Earl Nyholm (Director) (1999). Earl's Canoe: A Traditional Ojibwe Craft. Smithsonian Center for Folklife Programs and Cultural Studies. Retrieved 2012-12-03. 
  2. ^ Hayes, Derek. Historical Atlas of Canada: Canada's History Illustrated with Original Maps. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre Ltd, 2002. p. 152.

External links[edit]