Birch trees are prized for their outstanding bark characteristics and their graceful delicate foliage. A birch tree’s leaves are green with sharp edges, which turn yellow in the fall depending on the species. Numerous species and cultivars are used in landscapes, and almost all are distinctive in bark coloration, growth form, and susceptibility to certain insect pests. Though homeowners often desire birch as an ornamental tree, they soon discover that birch can be very difficult to maintain as a healthy, long-lived specimen. In many landscapes, birch trees begin to decline within a few years, and many trees die well before reaching maturity. The white birch grows to a height of 50–70′ and a spread of around 35′ at maturity. A healthy birch tree should be able to survive and thrive for 40-50 years. In many yards, however, it is not unusual for birch trees, especially the white-barked birches, to die well before reaching 20 years of age.
From my kitchen window I look out on a tiny grove of white birch trees… three of them.
Since moving here a few years ago I have felt soothed and comforted
by the graceful swaying of these birches and their shimmering leaves.
Last year I noticed that one of them and part of another were leafless,
only fine white branches stood out against all the greenery and blue sky.
I finally realized these trees were no longer alive.
I have no idea how they keep standing,
their delicate dry branches floating in the breeze.
What holds them up in the winter storms?
A few weeks ago I posted black and white photographs of them.
Yesterday while walking through a nearby neighborhood
I saw another leafless birch reaching for the sky.
Next to it, strewn across the fence and ground,
lay the one that didn’t make it through the storm.