Betula utilis, the Himalayan birch, is widely distributed throughout the region. The thin, papery bark, shiny reddish brown or pinkish, peels off in wide bands and was used for writing Sanskrit texts. This species is used in gardens but it is Betula utilis var jacquemontii, the West Himalayan birch, that members have voted for as their ‘can’t be without’ plant.
This variety has the fantastic bright white bark that is so telling in any landscape at any time of year. It is a vigorous deciduous tree growing to about 18m with yellow-brown male catkins to 12cm long that open in early spring and ovate leaves that turn yellow in the autumn.
But it is for the white bark that the tree is usually grown, either as a multi stemmed specimen or grouped together in a copse. At Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire they have taken it several stages further and, as you can see from the image, planted what must amount to about 100 trees. They are the far end of the Winter Garden and come as quite a shock as you round the bend and suddenly see them for the first time. On subsequent visits you can enjoy the anticipation as you wander along the path – they come as a very restful full stop at the end of the garden.
I imagine they have the same effect in the garden, catching the winter sunshine but not adding any jarring colour, and providing a peaceful accent for the rest of the year. It is a very amenable plant and will grow in a wide range of situations, any aspect, in sun or partial shade whether sheltered or exposed, in any moist, well-drained soil of any pH.
This really is a super-tree and fully deserves its place at Number 8 in our Top 30.