On a snowshoe hike in the hills behind the Kiroro resort in Hokkaido, the guide helped me identify the two major species of birch trees on the island. Birch trees are one of my favorites, with its distinctive white bark, it really stands out in forests of mostly green and brown. The photo above is Betula platyphilia, the Japanese White Birch. The Japanese white birch ranges from Siberia to China, Korea and Japan.
The other species of birch we identified was Betula ermanii, or Erman’s Birch. They are found in northeast China, Korea, Japan, and the Russian Far East. It differs from the white birch by having a more complex branching pattern (lattice). The white birch is usually a single large trunk with smaller branches coming off of the main trunk, while Erman’s Birch has several main trunks. You can see this below.
Birch trees are symbolic of the northern temperate and boreal forests. The word birch comes from the proto-Germanic language meaning “to shine” and with the white bark, they certainly do that. Robert Frost and I share an affinity for birches and he reckons they are “fountain of youth” that one can climb towards heaven and when one reaches the top of the white trunk with black branches, be dipped down to start again. “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”