The paper birch tree, usually referred to regionally as a white birch, is one of the more popular trees in the northwoods--distinct because of its white bark, which makes the trunk very distinctive in the northwoods forest.
Recently there has been considerable loss of paper birch in the area, due to a birch blight and other diseases. Foresters have pointed out that the birch in the area are nearing maturity, most having been started as a result of the fires that came through this area following the logging. Thus diseases that young healthy trees might withstand become fatal to the older birch trees that now dominate our birch population.
The tree is sun loving, and evidently fire is important to its seeding itself. Thus the area has not been conducive to new paper birch growth over the past half century. We will have to reluctantly accept the fact that we will see fewer and fewer of the forest favorites in years to come.
The tree has a rich history among Native Americans of the region. We think principally of birch bark canoes and baskets, but the bark of the three was used for a wide variety of things.
Mazina'igan, A Chronicle of the Lake Superior Ojibwe had an article by Sue Erickson, at staff writer, on its "Kid's Page" in the Spring/Summer 2010 issue entitled, "Wiigwaas/Birch Bark.." Interestingly it talks of removing the outer layer of bark from living birch trees without damaging the tree, a process with which I was previously unaware. And a child vacationing in the northwoods, I was always told to look for dean or downed birch to get the birch bark--good advice for those not skilled in proper techniques. The article also speaks of "maxinibaganjigan" or birch bark biting, an art form that creates designs of birch bark by biting it with your teeth. Birch Bark