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Native to the northern hemisphere and some parts of Asia, birch trees are highly valued for their medicinal properties and are used for commercial purposes. They’re hardy trees that can withstand unfavorable conditions and are believed to have been among the first species to have regrown after the great ice age. Due to this reason, the birch tree is also known as a Pioneer Tree.
The birch tree has several meanings and symbolism attributed to it, which differ from culture to culture. Here’s a closer look at the symbolism of the birch tree and the meaning behind it.
What is the Birch Tree?
The birch tree (Betula pendula) is a deciduous, hardwood tree belonging to the Betulaceae family. It’s believed that the name ‘birch’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘bhurga’, which meant ‘a tree with bark that’s used for writing on’ or from the word ‘bher’, which means ‘shining white’. Both these meanings refer to the white, papery nature of the birch bark.
Birch trees grow rapidly and can reach a height of 60 meters, but they have fairly short life spans in comparison to other ornamental trees. They can live for up to 140 years and grow even in the harshest of conditions. It’s been known to populate areas damaged by clearing or forest fires, which shows its adaptability to various environments.
The leaves of the birch tree are soft, green, and deciduous, with serrated edges, and grow on thin branches. The bark of the tree is a striking white color and some have a silvery hue that gives it its attractive appearance. The bark is thin, loose, and can easily be peeled off the tree like paper.
The birch tree holds significance in various cultures around the world and there are various myths surrounding it. In central Russia, the beautiful, hardwood tree can be found in abundance and has a special place in Russian culture. In fact, it’s regarded as a symbol of Russia and is also the country’s national tree.
Birch Tree Symbolism
The birch tree is said to be one of the first trees to have certain symbolic interpretations and meanings attributed to it. Throughout history, it has also been mentioned in various traditions and mythologies.
In Native American culture, the birch tree is strongly associated with guidance and protection. According to an Ojibwa legend, a spirit-boy named Winabojo searched for the feather of a Thunderbird to make his bow and arrow. After taking the feathers from a baby Thunderbird in a nest, he tried to climb out of the next to return to his village.
The Thunderbirds were angry when they saw the feathers had been taken and chased after Winabojo who sought shelter in the hollow trunk of a birch tree. Winabojo was saved and he safely returned to his village.
Since the birch tree was strong enough to protect Winabojo, the Native Americans regard it as a strong and trustworthy mater and they use it to create many cultural objects. They also consider the tree to be a guiding symbol as it guided Winabojo to safety.
2. A New Beginning and Hope
In Celtic mythology, the silver birch tree is regarded as one of the most sacred trees, symbolizing new beginnings. This association predates the written word when the silver birch was associated with Brigid, the Celtic goddess of healers. The tree was used to start fires in celebration of the Celtic festival of new beginnings which was held to ensure abundant, healthy crops.
3. Good Luck and Healing
Birch trees can be a symbol of good luck in life. On Midsummer’s Eve, the Celts would hang birch branches around their doors, hoping to guard themselves against evil misfortune and bring good luck.
Legend has it that a weak and wounded prince once lay under a birch tree to rest when he saw a princess passing by. She saw the prince and healed his wounds. Afterward, they fell in love and lived happily ever after. It’s believed that this story shows how the birch tree came to be associated with healing and good luck.
In some countries, such as Russia, a birch tree is planted for every newborn child as it’s believed to bring the child good luck throughout their life.
Birch trees are strong and resilient, able to occupy landscapes that have been damaged and destroyed which is why they’re called Pioneer Trees. It’s believed that for someone who loses something in life, the birch tree is a sign that they will receive something much better than what they lost.
The birch tree can adapt to any environment and grow in harsh conditions, which is why it’s viewed as a symbol of adaptability. It also grows quickly and is relatively immune to common diseases. It’s generally believed that the tree is a sign that it’s important to take risks in life, trying new things, and learning to cope with unpleasant situations.
6. Symbol of Femininity
In Slavic culture, the birch tree represents femininity as well as happiness and blessings for women. This symbolism is associated with an ancient Slavic tale that tells of a golden-haired mermaid who came out of a lake on a moonlit night to play. As the weather was very cold, she went inside a hut that she’d found nearby. She was completely unaware of her surroundings and did not realize that the sun god had brought daytime with him.
The sun god was smitten by the mermaid’s beauty and fell in love with her. Although he tried to woo her, the mermaid rejected his advances and tried to run away from him. However, he held on to her, making it impossible to escape. The mermaid began to weep and as her tears fell on the ground, a beautiful, slender tree began to grow. The mermaid was turned into a beautiful white birch tree.
Today, the birch tree is known as the ‘Lady of the Woods’, and has strong associations with feminine energies.
The Uses of Birch
Throughout history, birch has been used for medicinal, ornamental, and commercial purposes. In the past, birch sap was highly valued by physicians who used it as a painkiller as well as for skin diseases. It was also used to relieve bladder inflammation, gout, rheumatism, headaches, nerve pain, and dizziness.
Birch extracts are popularly used for leather oil and flavoring as well as soaps and shampoos. In the past, wintergreen oil was created from sweet birch, and this was used to treat various medical conditions.
The wood of the birch tree is pale in color, fine-grained, strong, and extremely durable. Due to this reason, it’s ideal for making furniture, hardwood floors, cabinets, and tool handles. The Native Americans valued the birch tree for its bark and used it to make bowls, boats, and small houses. Birch bark has also been used as paper for centuries.
Birch trees are unique and beautiful trees that are said to come with protective as well as positive energy. It remains one of the most practical, and widely used trees. In certain cultures, like that of the Celts, the birch tree is considered sacred and specie.