The Paper Birch is a well-known tree and perhaps one of the most beautiful native trees of America. When thinking of birch most people think of the white peeling bark of the Paper Birch. Jefferson County is on the extreme southern end of the Paper Birch range, and growth is usually limited to the 25-30 foot range. The bark comes off in large sheets (and must not be physically removed as it will leave permanent black scars on the tree). The tree should be planted in a cool moist area in order to obtain best health and form, or else the tree could become susceptible to disease. Tree has a loose pyramidal shape and the fall color is a brilliant yellow. The tree is short-lived to 30-50 years.
The tree is one of the most used trees both historically and in modern times. The Native Americans of the area used the trees for medicinal qualities (the sap can cure colds) and for function (the bark was used to clad canoes). The wood is used now for everything from popsicle sticks to toothpicks to clothespins.
Before the Lewis & Clark Expedition in 1804, Thomas Jefferson was obsessed with exploring the west and finding routes to the Pacific Ocean. Reluctantly thrust into the political and government arena, Jefferson himself could never go on such an adventure. In 1793, Jefferson enlisted other members of the American Philosophical Society to sponsor André Michaux, a French botanist to "find the shortest & most convenient route of communication between the U.S. & the Pacific Ocean." Jefferson wrote to Michaux with explicit direction on how to document everything, he wrote “The method of pursuing your observations is left to you, according to the means which shall be in your power. It is only suggested that the noting of them on the skin might be best for such as are most important, and that further details may be committed to the back of the paper birch, a substance which may not excite suspicions among the Indians, & little liable to injury from wet or other common accidents” However, the expedition was abandoned east of the Mississippi due to political intrigue.
The tree is a host plant for 329 species of butterflies and moths in the greater Jefferson County area including the Luna Moth and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. The Paper Birch attracts 19 different genera of birds which include wrens, finches, orioles, cardinals, and thrushes.■