ABOUT THIS BOOK
Elegant, rich in history, and supremely useful, birches have played an extraordinary yet largely unrecognized part in shaping both our natural environment and the material culture and beliefs of millions of people around the world. Exploring birches’ many uses, the ancient beliefs and folklore we associate with them, their abiding portrayal in literature and art, and their biology, Birch presents a fascinating overview of the cultural and ecological significance of these versatile trees.
For thousands of years, birches have given the people of northern temperate forests and beyond raw materials in the form of leaves, twigs, branches, bark, wood, and sap—materials used not simply to survive, but to flourish and express identity in practical and spiritual ways. Tough, waterproof, and flexible, birch bark has been used for everything from basketry and clothing to housing, transport, musical instruments, and medicines, and even to communicate and record sacred beliefs: some of our most ancient Buddhist texts and other historic documents are written on birch bark. Birches have not only shaped regional indigenous cultures—for example, in the form of the Native American wigwam and the birch bark canoe—they also continue to be of global economic importance today. Featuring an arbor of illustrations and rich analyses, Birch is an enlightening look into the history and possible future of these beautiful trees.