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Behind my house, shading the deck and my sit spot, is a lovely yellow birch. For many years, it was just “a birch of some kind.” Deepening my connection with the land included getting to know the trees, and I set about discovering what kind of birch it is.

The tree has bark which peels like the white, or paper, birch trees I am used to seeing, but the bark is a golden-brown color. Reading a book on native trees in my region, I found the yellow birch and realized who my tree friend was.

Looking up into the yellow birch

The yellow birch is truly my friend and is central to my backyard ecosystem. From spring until the leaves fall in autumn, the dense canopy provides shelter from the rain and cover for squirrels and songbirds to avoid raptors flying overhead. I stay relatively dry in my sit spot, directly below the tree, during all but the heaviest rains. The branches that stretch towards the feeders on the deck provide a pathway for the squirrels making their way out of the woods and provide a place for the birds to wait their turn.

The tree has felt like a guardian of the land since the day I met her, fifteen years ago. I have always been careful when pruning the branches that hang too low, and make sure I ask permission. I honor yellow birch by making all of the wreaths for my dream webs from any branches I cut. I leave offerings to the Earth on a flat rock at her base, which she holds between two roots. I speak with her often.

The yellow birch is sometimes called a swamp birch. They are long-lived birches and can exceed one hundred years old. I recently learned that one way to identify a yellow birch is by scraping a twig with a fingernail and smelling it. Yellow birch smells like wintergreen.

Yellow birch is unfortunately a source of valuable lumber, which is always worrisome when it comes to slow-growing trees since they are not readily replaced. Yellow birch can also be tapped for sap like sugar maples. My yellow birch is safe from both of those outcomes as long as I am here to watch out for her.

The upright, cone-like catkins of the yellow birch produce seeds which feed several bird species and red squirrels. Red-throated hummingbirds, two hawk species, and chickadees prefer to nest in yellow birch. This tree gives much to the web of life. Thank you, yellow birch.