FLORA OF ICELAND elements: Betula pubescens, downy birch

Betula pubescens; the downy birch is the major tree species of the north- Atlantic. It can be found from the North- America's, southern Greenland to the northern and western Europa's. On Iceland it is the only tree species in the wild that manages to survive. Small numbers of Rowan however spread along within the birch stands. There are many speculations on the originality of the present birch stands. Today they form only a very small part (1%) of the coverage of the land of Iceland. At the time of the first Norse settlement it is estimated that at the time 30% of Iceland was covered by birch stands. However, from historical data it is not known what the vigor of the birches were. To date almost all birches on Iceland are lower than 2 meters tall, very much in contrast to continental downy birches which easily grow up to 20 meters. A possibility is that, as a result of tree-harvesting (wood material) for clearings and fuel-materials and the low-level natural occurring hybridisation between B. pubescens and B. nana (the dwarf birch) the modern Iceland B. pubescens population has become far less vital than the stands that existed before the Norse invasions. This however, is contradicted by the fact that there are locally very well developed birch forests. They can be found in the north near Akureyri and Ásbyrgi, in the east near Egilsstadir and also in the Thörsmörk region. These forests thrive in protected valleys. Birchwater, a juice that supposedly stimulates hairgrowth, can be obtained from this tree by tapping the juice from the tree. It is a memer of the Birch family (Betulaceae). The Icelandic name of this species is Birki.

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A brief introduction to Iceland plants
Text & Photographs by Dick Vuijk - unless stated otherwise

downy birch twigs
well developed trees in a forest in a sheltered area (Ásbergi)
characteristic view over Iceland birch Scrub
reload first photo: catkins

downy birch twigs
well developed trees
characteristic view
reload first photo: catkins

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