One of the aims of Stone Lane Gardens is to increase our knowledge of Birch and Alder and to share that knowledge. An important objective is the creation of an on-line database. This database will also contain as much information on ‘Birch uses’ as we can collect. Our wish is that Stone Lane Gardens becomes a centre of expertise for all things ‘Birch and Alder’ related. Our new website will enable us to begin collating and sharing that knowledge.
Kenneth Ashburner (BSc Hort.) carried out a great deal of research into Birch and Alder, and was particularly fascinated by Birch. During his lifetime he became an acknowledged expert of the Betula genus. He was asked to write a monograph on Betula and the book was almost completed when he died. His co-author Dr. Hugh McAllister has finished the work with the help of their editor Dr. Martyn Rix. It is published by Kew. Both Kenneth and Hugh were in the favourable position of having been in close contact with many betula species over many years, observing their changes through the seasons as the grow from seedlings to mature trees. This makes the Betula monograph a more complete and faithful work. The book is available to purchase from us by clicking here.
3rd trip to Georgia – in partnership with BGCI
In September 2015, Paul Bartlett returned to Georgia for further fieldwork. This time we have partnered with Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) to create a long-term conservation project in cooperation with the Institute of Botany in Tbilisi. This project has its own dedicated page here.
2nd trip to Georgia – Betula megrelica discovered
In 2013, Paul returned to Georgia with the financial help of the Rufford Small Grant programme and Plant Heritage (Devon Group).
This trip was specifically to locate and study the rare Betula megrelica. Read his full report here – Betula megrelica report
The Birch of Georgia
In 2012 our Garden Manager Paul Bartlett travelled to Georgia to study the rare and under-researched Birch of this part of the Caucasus mountains. With the help of the botanists of Tbilisi Botanic Garden and Batumi Botanic Garden, he was able to study all the species of birch found in Georgia. Read more about Summary of 2012 Plant study expedition to Georgia.
The phylogeny and genome size evolution of Birch
Several years ago, we became involved with Dr Richard Buggs and his department at Queen Mary University of London. Richard’s team have been studying the phylogeny (evolutionary relationships over time) of Birch. We became a major source of plant material for their molecular studies.
The outcome is ‘Molecular phylogeny and genome size evolution of the genus Betula’ , a paper published in the Annals of Botany 117: 1023-1035, 2016. Authors: Nian Wang, Hugh A. McAllister, Paul R. Bartlett and Richard J. A. Buggs.
We are very proud to have been involved with Richard and his team. This highlights the value of having a botanical collection of plants of known wild provenance. Imagine having to source all that material from the wild!
Early in 2011, as part of the final editing of the book, Martyn Rix asked Paul Bartlett if he could create a section on the birch cultivars. The main thrust of the book is naturally about wild species, but the popular cultivars deserve mention too and are in fact what most people are familiar with. With the help of many betula enthusiasts in the UK and abroad, Paul managed to track down the provenance of most of these cultivars, although the origins of many still remain a mystery. This is an ongoing project. Paul is constantly revising the document. The latest edition of the cultivars document is available here. Research of Birch cultivars.
Molecular analysis of Birch
Samples of birch bark from Stone Lane Gardens are helping to build links with the past. At the end of October 2011, Garden Manager Paul Bartlett travelled to the British Museum in London to hand over bark samples for analysis.
This all began when Stone Lane Gardens was contacted by Dr. Pauline Burger, an Analytical Chemist from the Department of Conservation and Scientific Research at the British Museum. She was requesting bark samples of two species of birch; Betula lenta (the cherry birch from North America) and Betula pendula (our own native silver birch). The British Museum is carrying out a project to analyse the molecular structure of tars and pitches made from the distillation of many different tree barks, in the hope of being able to create a database of ‘molecular fingerprints’ that will help with identification of the tars and pitches used in the construction of ancient artefacts and structures.
We were delighted to be involved in such an interesting and important project, as it highlights the importance of preserving National Collections of plants. For some species it would be very difficult and costly to obtain such material in the wild. But having a National Collection on your doorstep means easy access to all that research material. A potential ‘gold mine’ of data waiting to be unlocked by UK scientists.
‘Dr. Burger works in a laboratory situated beneath the public areas of the museum. She creates tar in a furnace and then uses a process called GCMS (Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry). This involves heating up the sample (obtained by solvent extraction of the initial tar or pitch) so that the molecules are volatized and separated. The molecules are then hit by electrons and fragmented to obtain specific molecular fingerprint for every single molecule.
The Birch of Arunachal Pradesh (North East India)
In 2010 our Garden Manager Paul Bartlett took part in a plant study expedition to a remote corner of India on the border of Tibet and Burma, led by eminent botanist and arboriculturalist Keith Rushforth. Paul studied the Birch and Alder of the area. The trek through largely unexplored virgin forest was tough and arduous. But the group did find the rare shrub-birch Betula ashburneri. Read about The birch of Arunachal Pradesh
Man’s uses of Birch through the ages
Because birch has always been such an abundant tree in the northern hemisphere, it has long been used as a material for the construction of many practical items, as well as a source of food and medicine. This reliance on birch as a life-enhancing material would naturally have led to associations with folk-lore. Hence the common name of ‘Lady of the woods’.
I have spent many hours researching the varied uses of birch throughout the Northern Hemisphere. This is to be an ongoing project and I am always happy to hear of other uses that I have not come accross. Here are some documents detailing the information we have found so far:
Our dependence on plants – a paper written by Paul Bartlett as part of his study for the Certificate of Arboriculture (Theory).