The silver birch (Betula pendula) is one of our native trees and is very good for wildlife in general. In Dorset it is a very common tree on our wet heathland but it also occurs all over the county, especially, but not exclusively, where it is a bit damp. It is easily confused with the very similar downy birch. On younger trees the bark is almost unblemished but as it grows larger and older so warty areas appear and that is why this is sometimes called the warty birch and this is one way to tell it apart from the downy birch with tends to retain its unwrinkled skin.
This tree is probably at its best in spring when dressed in a covering of light green fresh leaves but even in winter it has a certain delicacy about it. It quickly but has a fairly short life span of about thirty years. As it ages the common birch polypore fungus takes hold and the tree dies. The fungus itself is fascinating as it starts out brown on top and white underneath but as it dries out it takes on the same colouring and appearance as its host and you would think it was all part of the natural tree itself.
The silver birch freely self seeds and establishes itself. In some areas they have to be taken out to stop them dominating and overwhelming other forms of vegetation. It produces familiar catkins but we usually think of the hazel catkins, or lamb's tails, we see earlier in the year. Like hazel, the silver birch flowers before the leaves come. It flowers much later in than hazel in April and May whereas hazel catkins are out as early as January and all over by the end of March.