FLORA OF ICELAND elements: Betula pubescens, Downy Birch, Birki

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 Europe'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 vigour 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 hybridization 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 hair growth, can be obtained from this tree by tapping the juice from the tree. It is a member of the Birch family (Betulaceae). The Icelandic name of this species is Birki.

A brief introduction to Iceland plants
Text & Photographs by Dick Vuijk
- unless stated otherwise
Other non-heather woody species

Other non-heather woody species

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Natural History of Iceland Site  in Dutch

Natural History of Iceland Site  Dutch