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Cultural aspects of the trees in selected European countries

Compiled by
Simon Bell, John McLoughlin, Tatiana Reeg, Andre Gavaland, Urs Muehlthaler, Kirsi
Makinen, Jose Castro, Ana Maria Carvalho, Agata Cziesewzka, Jacek Borowski,
Francesco Ferrini, Laura Pennati, Olympia Dini-Papanastasi and Ioannis Ispikoudis
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Fraxinus excelsior
Acer pseudoplatanus,
Acer platanoides and Acer campestre
Tilia cordata and T. platyphyllos
Prunus avium and Prunus padus
CHAPTER 5: BIRCH: Silver -
Betula pendula and Downy
B. Pubescens
Juglans Regis
Alnus glutinosa
Ulmus spp
Sorbus torminalis
Thanks go to all the European Union country representatives in WG3 for all their contributions
over the course of the COST Action. This publication was funded through COST and the
European Science Foundation
This publication is derived from the Outputs of Working Group One (WG3) of the EU COST
ACTION E42 VALBRO. Thanks go to all members of the working group for their contributions.
This paper describes how a particular group of broadleaved trees   
heir general rarity in terms of
timber supply have had a special place in the cultural landscapes and cultural life of a
number of countries in Europe. The paper is an output of Cost Action E42  -
Valuable Broadleaved Trees in Europe. The countries presented here reflect those which took
part in the action, although conveniently they represent a good range of different regions
from Finland in the North to Greece in the south and from Ireland in the west to Poland in the
east. Not all of the trees are found in each country and in some they are planted but not
native. The cultural values and associations therefore vary but there are also some great
similarities in the way trees have played a role economically, providing a range of products
both timber and non-timber; as elements that identify place and help establish place identity;
as sources of folklore, myths, legends and superstitions. These values are on the point of being
lost to most cultures because they are associated with traditional, rural ways of life. As Europe
becomes more urbanised such cultural heritage is at risk of becoming lost forever. Trees
become either utilitarian sources of products of economic value or are used as aesthetic
objects in landscape design.
Many of these trees, while having a place in the forest or woodland, are often found in the
cultural, agricultural landscapes where they played important roles in everyday life, providing a
range of products and often occupying a specific place in the landscape.
In those countries which have lost their forest over the years and which have lost whatever
forest associations they may once have had, such as Ireland or the UK, some of the cultural
associations are relatively few, whereas for the more heavily forested countries such as Finland
or Greece the trees take on a larger role. In Ireland and to a lesser extent the UK, post-glacial
rises in seal level meant that some of the trees failed to arrive there naturally. In Britain the
Romans and Normans introduced several trees which have now become naturalised but this
did not happen in Ireland. Likewise, some of the cultural traditions and mythology have spread
around Europe in ancient times as the result of the movement of peoples at different phases of
history. Thus, in Britain many features of Anglo-Saxon or Norse mythology can be seen to
took place.
The Celtic traditions, which also came from south-western Europe are maintained to some
extent in Ireland. The ancient Irish invented an alphabet that reflected the special role that
trees played in every day life. The alphabet, called Ogham was in use by the fourth century AD
and was the first form of writing ever used in the Irish language. The Ogham alphabet
consisted of a series of markings cut into the edge of standing stones. Ogham is read as a tree
is climbed, from the bottom up. Each group of marking correspond to a letter and each letter is
assigned a name. The word for the letter B was beith and this was associated with the birch
tree, while the letter D was associated with oak (dair). Originally eight letter were named after
trees; birch, alder, willow, oak, hazel, pine, ash and yew. In the middle ages, scholars read
other tree names into the remaining letters, resulting in a tree alphabet.
The so-called Brehon Laws also used trees The list of twenty-eight trees and shrubs as
arranged in the eighth-century Old Irish law-text
Bretha Comaithchesa
 
 is as follows:
Airig fedo ‘lords of the wood’
1. Dair 
2. Coll 
3. Cuilenn 
4. Ibar 
5. Uinnius 
6. Ochtach )
7. Aball -
Aithig fhedo ‘commoners of the wood’
8. Fern 
9. Sail 
10. Saé 
11. Cáerthann s aucuparia)
12. Beithe 
13. Lem 
14. Idath 
Fodla fedo ‘lower division of the wood’
15. Draigen 
16. Trom 
17. Féorus -t
18. Findcholl 
19. Caithne 
20. Crithach 
21. Crann fir 
Losa fedo ‘ bushes of the wood’
1. Raith quilinus)
2. Rait -
3. Aitenn 
4. Dris 
5. Fróech 
6. Gilcach 
7. Spín 
The structure of this paper is to take each tree in turn and to present its cultural aspects as
they relate to each country. Readers will be able to see what a fascinating and rich set of
aspects are associated with these trees from just a relatively small sample of countries: it is
easy to imaging what could be achieved with a more comprehensive selection. Finally, some
comparisons are made which show some interesting patterns of usage across Europe. These
show that the uses made of the trees in non-wood products were wide ranging and there is
still much potential to discover new products or to rediscover traditional ones which may prove
efficacious in future.
The material used in this paper comes from a range of sources, few of which are based on
research but on books and web-based resources published often for general interest. This
shows that the subject is of more popular than academic interest at present.
Fraxinus excelsior
Fig. 1. Distribution of ash in Europe. Source EUFORGEN
Fig. 2: Ash:
Fraxinus excelsior
Photo: Agata Cziesewska
The United Kingdom:
Simon Bell
Ash is a native tree to the British landscape, especially England and Wales, being less common
in Scotland. It is often found in limestone areas and on steep slopes as well as valleys and
valley sides. Ash woods can also be found in places. In the national vegetation classification
there is a specific woodland type of
Fraxinus excelsior Mercuralis perennis
mercury) which is found on base-rich, moist soils. These are the most favourable for the tree
which is found as mono-specific woodland in such areas. The English name ash is derived from
the Anglo-Saxon name for a spear, once a common use for 'ground ash' as young slender
saplings were called. Arrows for the famous English/Welsh longbow were made of ash.
Ash has also been traditionally widely planted in hedgerows and fences, especially in places
enclosed in the 18th and 19th centuries. It thrives in rich agricultural soils and also casts a light
shade so is less in competition for crops.
Ash has been traditionally grown for sports equipment, especially hockey sticks (for field
hockey). It needs to be grown fast, on good soils for this purpose. It is also traditionally
regarded as excellent firewood. Ash timber is also renowned for its toughness and pliability
which make it arguably the best wood for tool handles, sports goods such as hockey sticks (as
noted above), oars and where wood framing may be required for large vehicles or caravans.
In English folklore, it was thought that the opening of the ash buds could predict the weather:
if oak leaves were seen to open first, the summer would be dry, while if the ash leaves opened
first, the weather would be wet. This can be remembered by the following rhyme:
If the oak comes out before the ash,
If the ash comes out before the oak, in for a soak.
The seeds of the ash were used in love divination. If the seeds did not appear on a tree the
owner was thought to have been unlucky in love, or a future venture would not be successful.
By repeating the following traditional English (UK) verse the inquirer would soon have the
identity of their intended revealed:
'Even-ash, even-ash, I pluck thee,
This night my own true love to see,
Neither in his bed nor in the bare,
But in the clothes he does every day wear.'
In the North of England it was thought that by a woman placing an Ash leaf in the left shoe,
she would be fortunate enough to meet her future spouse immediately. To ward off negative
energies and personal misfortune the following English verse was thought to aid those who
came upon an Ash tree and picked a leaf from a branch:
'Even ash, I do thee pluck,
Hoping thus to meet good luck.
If no good luck I get from thee,
I shall wish thee on the tree.'
Having found a leaf by chance, success and happiness would be doubly assured if the Ash leaf
was kept upon the person or worn openly.
In British folklore the ash was credited with a range of protective and healing properties, most
frequently related to child health. Newborn babies were popularly given a teaspoon of ash sap.
Ailing children, especially those suffering with rupture or weak limbs, would be passed naked
through a cleft in an ash tree or ash sapling, to cure them. The cleft was often specifically
made for the purpose and bound together again after the ceremony to heal over as the child
also healed. Some folklore then suggested an intimate bond between the welfare and fate of
the now related tree and person, with harm to 
John McLoughlin
Ash is one of the commonest trees, it is found in hedgerows and in woodlands. Ash trees are
often found close to churches and holy wells and its special place in Irish culture dates back to
a time when it was revered as a
or sacred tree. It grows on a wide range of soils but
thrives best on deep alluvial soils. Unlike other trees ash timber is strongest when grown fast. It
is prized for Hurley manufacture (hurley is a fast moving game where a ball is hurled around
using the distinctive sticks), one of the last of our cottage industries. Every year a half million
hurley are used in Ireland. The pale dense wood can also be used for tool handles, furniture
and is ideal firewood. The flowers are very dark, almost black, and may be seen before the
leaves develop. Ash has adapted well to our climate and is the last tree to come into leaf and
the first to lose them in autumn this helps it to avoid damage from the frost. The tallest tree
is 40 metres.
In the Brehon Laws the ash is among the nobles of the woods and the letter N in the Ogham
alphabet. Ash is associated with fertility and healing through its symbolic link with water. Many
superstitions surround the ash; ash is believed to be the first tree to be hit by lightening. It is
                 
against witches! Many place names are called after the Irish version fuinseóg, Ashford
áth na
Tatiana Reeg
In the Middle Ages, ashes were planted near castles because of their wood qualities. In the
past, they were regularly planted in parks and avenues, too. Pollarded ashes can be found
especially in mountain regions like the Alps or the Black Forest. Often, ashes stand around
abandoned houses, farmsteads and on fallow meadows.
A typical management technique for ashes was the pollarding to gain fodder for the livestock.
Sometimes, ash could be found in coppice or composite forests.
The wood is very hard, flexible and elastic. Therefore it was typically used for spears (already
Homer praised it) and bows, fences and palisades, ladders, wooden carts and wheels, skis and
tennis rackets. As ash wood burns very efficiently and nearly smokeless, it was very popular as
           parquet flooring,
gymnastic apparatus and tools are produced.
In the past, different parts of ash trees were used for medicinal purpose: the wood was put on
wounds; strips of the bark had styptic effects; the juice of the leaves was supposed to protect
against snakes. Its bark was a substitute for oak-tanbark. Today, ash is part of teas against
rheumatism or is used externally in form of alcohol.
               
springtime: If ash sprouts first, summer will be warm and dry. If oak sprouts first, summer will
be wet
In Germanic mythology, man derives from ash and women from elm. Also, the world rests in
the treetop of the ash of live,
Urs Muhlethaler
Ash is found in hedges and wood borders, alluvial and ash forests, in the mountain as solitary
tree, occasionally in gardens and parks. Ashes stand often around farmsteads because the
leaves, reaches on proteins, once dried were often important winter fodder for livestock. The
strong roots are good to fortify streams and river banks. Ash is growing fast and inelegant.
When it has too much space in the top it tends to develop gross branches and forks. Forks are
also due to the moth of ash forks, which kills the top buds. For the treatment of young-growth
trees the ash can be planted on stumps. In this way the adjacent stump sprouts serve as food
for game animals, who are then not approaching the young ashes. For roe bucks stump
sprouts are used as fraying tree.
Ash wood is used to build furniture, parquet, veneer. It is ideal for the fabrication of ladders,
because of its resistance and toughness. It is also in high demand for the fabrication of
numerous sport equipment like skies, sledges, parallel bars or oars, because of its flexibility.
Ash wood was earlier used in the game of  for the sticks and flagsticks for flag
swingers. It was also used for lashes, in particular plaited ones. 95% of tools handles are still
made of ash wood. The traditional construction of wooden wagons also used ash.
The wood of special ash species (Fraxinus ornus and Fraxinus angustifolia) excretes, from
Fig. 4: Natural grown ashes on
terraces in grassland
Photo: Tatiana Reeg
make sweeties, as sweetener for diabetics or for different medicaments. It has laxative and
diuretic skills; it activate the transpiration and it facilitate the digestion.
Chewing slowly a recent ash leaf is reasonable to fortify gums and improve the breath. The ash
bark contains salicylic acid, the active substance of aspirin.
Ash foliage is considered still today the best livestock fodder in reference to nourishing content
and micro elements. Earlier ashes were regularly pollard to obtain forage. Farmers were relied
on ash leaves, since in winter they distributed them to the animals instead of straw.
Ash nomenclature comes from the old Nordic "ask-r" and the Anglo-Saxon "äse", which refer
not only to the tree, but also to the javelin made with ash wood.
es from Greek "frasso", which means as far as to defend;
it is referred to the wood utilisation for weapons production. In German speaking countries
family names associated with ash are Esch, Escher, Eschmann, Eschbach and many others. In
Switzerland there are two towns named Eschenbach, one in canton Luzern, the other in canton
St. Galle; altogether five localities with the name Aesch are known.
Mushrooms collectors know that morels are growing preferably together with ashes. This is
particularly noticeable on sandy alluvial forest habitats, but also on streams ash forests.
André Gavaland
Common ash,
Fraxinus excelsior
L., is spread almost all over France except mountainous areas
of more than 1400 m elevation a.s.l. In the Mediterranean areas, water deficiency prevents
common ash from thriving; it is replaced by southern ash,
Fraxinus angustifolia
Vahl. Common
ash belongs to the French rural landscape; it is present as isolated trees or in hedgerows in
which it is associated with other tree species, so it can be con.
             
      
countryside display a great variety of shapes: standards within forest stands or hedgerows,
pruned or pollarded trees, or also small spaced elongated stems within spontaneous young
stands; it bears witness of its straight links with agriculture and its numerous uses.
Furthermo             
              
Common ash is a colonizing quick growing species (80 cm per year during the first ten years
was observed in a silvo-arable ash stand), which allowed farmers to harvest ash trees soon for
multiple uses.
The wood of ash is very commonly used as fuelwood in rural areas because it can be easily lit,
displays a high calorific value and does not need to be dried during a long time contrary to oak
and beech. It also can be easily worked, which explains its traditional use for making many
local handicrafts, especially in the Pyrenees Mountains:
many farm tools : shepherd's crooks, tool handles, forks, rakes, ladders, shafts, flour
sifters, collars and fasteners for animals, troughs, racks, drinking troughs, manure channels
sporting or hunting articles: skis, snowshoes, sleigh runners, slings, bows
Many toys and goods (cheese mussels and trays, seats).
Ash wood was also traditionally used for building houses and barns (posts, beams) and for
making furniture; in the Pyrenees, rafters were often made of limewood or poplar, softer and
lighter than ash wood. The latter becomes very hard when it is dried, it is then difficult to plant
nails in it and this must be done when wood is not yet dry.
Beyond uses of ash for its quality wood, this species is also used for many non wood purposes.
Ash leaves display an excellent fodder value. Using ash leaves as fodder is the main non wood
use of ash tree. Until the beginning of 20th century, dried ash leaves were part of winter cattle
g females because of high calcium
concentration, twice higher than that of hay from natural meadows. Fodder from dried ash
leaves is well appreciated by cattle such as goats, sheep, cows and pigs. Major part of the
leaves is edible; actually, only 25 % of the leaves including petioles cannot be used as fodder.
Harvesting an ash tree of mid size can yield 50 kg of fresh leaves; this weight will be reduced
by two after drying. Leaf production of ash trees is less important than that of other tree
species but is rich in proteins (124g/kg MS). Energy value and chemical composition of ash
leaves, as leaves from other tree species, vary with time. Actually, fodder value is being
reduced along summer because of Nitrogen content decrease; consequently, cattle farmer
should harvest leaves early in summer to get fodder of higher value. Equally, ash leaves
digestibility is decreasing from August to October.
Therapeutic properties of leaves, fruits and bark of ash are well known for a long time in the
countryside. So,      
 Bark of ash twigs have always been used for its febrifuge and
astringent properties. Little by little, ash was replaced by cinchona, which appeared in Europe
by 1630. Medicines from ash have been used until the Second World War. Nowadays, it is still
possible to buy herb teas, granules and capsules from ash in pharmacies.
 ill made in rural
is recommended to rheumatic or gouty people; it is well known to be purgative and to
eliminate toxins of blood.
Ash leaves can also be used as human food because of their high food value: they are rich in
tannins, glucosides, vitamin C and nutrients (Ca, Fe, Cu, Mg). Nevertheless, bitterness remains
the main brake to consumption of ash leaves. Young samares were used to be eaten in the
past after steeping in vinegar. However, they had to be boiled previously to reduce bitterness.
Stuffed ash leaves were a delicious recipe that could only be prepared during spring with the
first great leaves: the stuffing made with bread, milk, eggs, onion and sausage flesh, is
wrapped in boiled leaves. 
tomatoes, watercress and ash leaves without petiole dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.
In all its locations, ash tree always represented cultural values for farmer communities. So,
beyond its numerous uses detailed above, ash trees, planted next to farm houses, represented
a divine symbol. Consequently, ash, like oak, is often cited in tales and legends with strong
symbolism. Ash represents young man recently married or in search of a woman, faithful
husband or fearless warrior, it symbolizes virility; while oak represents maturity.
Thus, numerous sayings certify that roasted or grated ash samares treat the male impotence.
In France, ash tree is well-known for keeping the snakes away; it was planted next to barns in
this aim. This property can be explained by the fact that ash tree hosts many birds predatory
of snakes.
Fig. 5: Two ash trees an old former pollard and a tree still being pollarded
Photos: André Gavaland
Fig 6: a stool and the rafters of a barn constructed out of ash. Photos: André
Laura Pennati, Francesco Ferrini
Common ash is present throughout Italy, but mostly in the North from the plain up to 1500 m
elevation. It is a sporadic and demanding tree that grows on deep, cool and damp soils and in
mountain areas it is associated with maple, beech, white and red fir, while on the plain with
pedunculate oak and European hornbeam.
Ash wood is widely employed due to its resistance and durability; it is known as grey ebony. It
is nearly white with a large grain and exceptional hardness. For these qualities, it is used in a
variety of products: for example, oars and masts for sailing vessels, tool handles, hockey sticks,
tennis rackets and skis.
In the past, isolated ash plants were kept along the margins of arable fields and near animal
barns to make it easier to collect fresh forage from the plants, appreciated for its purgative
qualities. The leaves, fermented in sugar- or honey-water, were used to prepare a pleasant
sort of wine.
It was believed that ash had both medicinal and mystical properties: Pliny advised the use of
ash-leaf juice against snake venom; and it was thought that burning ash in a room kept away
bad spirits. Superstitions and legends aside, the leaves and bark of European ash can yield
various medicinal products due to their eupeptic, diuretic, diaphoretic and laxative properties
and are used in the treatment of forms of rheumatism or gout. The principal components of
the leaves are free malic acid and calcium malates, hynosyte, mannite and bitter substances.
Manna ash grows, in Italy, throughout the peninsula and islands, with the exception of the
central-western alpine region and the Po Valley, up to an elevation of 1000 m in the north and
1500 m in the south. More tolerant of drought than ash, Manna ash is found on dry, sunny
slopes frequently associated with Mediterranean maquis and Turkey oak, pubescent oak, hop-
hornbeam (hophornbeam), sweet chestnut and holly oak. There are rarely pure stands.
Fraxinus ornus
wood has darker duramen than
F. excelsior
, is harder and has more grain, but
the trunk is not as straight as that of common ash.
Fraxinus ornus
supplies a good production
of manna: a yellowish exudate that heals trunk wounds and upon contact with air turns white
and congeals. Shallow cuts are made in the bark and from these sap seeps out, and then
hardens along the trunk. It is called 
is used in the confectionary industry and is also transformed into a slightly laxative syrup due
to its content of mannite. In the past it was widely used, indeed thousands of pounds of it,
from southern Italy, were consumed in Venice at a cost of twenty thousand ducats per year.
The Senate, at the time, decided to control the harvest of manna from the woods of the
Republic and due to the advice of a friar, Francesco Cosenza, the Senate in 1769 decreed that
all the manna ashes in Dalmatia, even those on p
price. However, the plan was not a success and in 1790, with another decree, extraction of
manna, even from plants growing on public lands, was liberalized and sold to the highest
Today it is cultivated, even if to a lesser degree, in the South and in particular in Sicily, in the
province of Palermo, due to the favourable conditions of climate, precipitation and soil fertility
with a long growing season, plenty of sunlight and relatively dry conditions which permit better
production in terms of both quality and quantity. There are still in this area traditional local
festivals dedicated to manna and some place names (e.g. Gibilmanna) underline the
importance of it production for the local population.
(, , , , , ) (Melia,
melios, melegos, melina, meliadi, phrasso)
Ioannis Ispikoudis and Olympia Dini-Papanastasi
It is the melii of the ancients or melia of Europe, common melios, meleo, phrasso. Ash is a
native tree to Greek landscape.
F. ornus
L.: In shrublands, woodland edges and forests all over
F. excelsior
: Limited distribution in mixed forests of high altitudes in North-East
mountains of Greece, sparce or in small stands, along streams in valleys, as well as on slopes
with fertile and wet soil, but also very often used in parks and alleys in urban areas.
F. angustifolia
Vahl ssp.
(Willd.): All over continental Greece and in some islands, in
riversides and wet areas, in mixed forests and wood pastures. Also used as ornamental in
parks and alleys in urban areas.
The Greek name melios or melia is derived from
the colour of the wood, which is like the colour
of honey = (meli). The name phrasso, from which perhaps the Latin name
  (phrasso), which means fence or palisade or rail,
block and/or defense blocking with spears or fight with spears, which were made mainly of ash
with copper sheathing as well, as the ash spearheads.
Ash wood is strong, durable, resilient and has been traditionally grown for sports equipment,
arms and tools. It is also traditionally regarded as an excellent firewood. Ash timber is also
renowned for its toughness and pliability, which makes it arguably the best wood for tool
handles (axe shaft etc), sport goods such as oars, as well as for ploughs, harrows, rakes,
carriages, cart axles, rims of cart wheels. It is used also for wood mosaics (art). Its charcoal is
excellent for gunpowder.
Ash bark was used for tannage, dyes and medicines. The leaves and the bark were used to
make fabric dyes, ranging in colour from gray, blue-gray to black (from that derives perhaps
   .
Dioscurides reports the leaves and bark as medicinal. The bark of
Fraxinus exelcior
was used
as a substitute of quinine to cure malaria.
Its leaves constitute luxurious fodder for livestock. It is the Voumelios of Theophrastus, which
means the ash of cattle. Sometimes pickles were made from its offshoots.
F. excelsior
is used
as fodder, ornamental etc.
F. ornus
is used
for tool handles, cart wheels etc. In Mediterranean
areas it is also used as fodder for cattle, goats and sheep (managed by pollarding), as fuel
(managed as coppice), as source for manna (used as laxative and marmalade).
F. angustifolia:
Its leaves fresh or dried are used as fodder for livestock (managed as pollarded). Its fodder is
very much preferred by deer.
       s, reminding us of the Melies Nymphs, the most
ancient divinities of nature and protectors of flocks and livestock. Meliads ( ) These
nymphs of the ash tree were born from drops of blood spread by Uranus after Cronus had
wounded him. In memory of their birth in blood, deadly lances were made from the wood of
the ash trees in which they lived. The Bronze Age human race supposedly sprang from ash
trees. This was the third age of people who inhabited the earth and was warlike and harsh. For
the creation of human beings
) was used.
He reports that Zeus created the third generation of human being     
Its wood was excellent and used for spears and javelins, many times mentioned by Homer for
this use ( . Ash is well known from the spears (
) of the Macedonian
also made from its wood. Nemesis, goddess
dity and sedateness, while the Erinyes as
the punishment of sinful people. Theophrastus, the Greek botanist (372-287 B.C.) and
Dioscurides (40-90 A.D.) report that ash has the property to cure the bites of snakes; bitten
people had to drink an infusion of ash leaves and the infused leaves were then applied on the
wound. Dioscurides also reported that a drink made of ash leaves ground in wine had the
property to make fat people lose weight.
Farmers used to plant ashes around their farms for the protection and safeness of babies.
Vines on trees 
peri anadendradon): There are descriptions how to
use these trees to support vines (reported as
anadendrades ampeli
= vines on trees, in
classical time and/or as
ypoklima dendra
= under-vine trees, in Byzantine period and later).
of wine, which is the sweeter and longest preserved and if they are planted sparse, they allow
cultivation every two years on the land between them
(this is a description of a well organized
agroforestry system).
Not all of trees should be anadendrades, but only those, which have a
tap root system or those, which have their roots outspread and their foliage is not too much
dense, in order not all the vine to be shadowed. And these trees are elms, upright poplars,
ashes and sycamores. And they should have a height of thirty feet (10 me
There are descriptions also, how and when to plant these trees in gardens.
 ….. and it is also possible to plant in paradises (= gardens) olive trees, and
almond trees and cherry trees and all the fruit trees and elms and pop
Ash trees are used very often as ornamentals in rows of trees in towns, in parks and gardens.
Some of the most important and interesting Greek Natural Monuments are comprised of ashes
and elms.
José Castro, Ana Maria Carvalho
A native tree, found mainly on riparian edges throughout the country but also shaping the
landscape, being found as scattered trees and in hedgerows and woodlands, over meadows
and arable fields (only a few) in the North; recently, unmanaged hedgerows in meadows have
expanded to become small as woodlands, particularly in isolated meadows unprofitable for
agricultural use. Moreover, rural abandonment has encouraged a trade in wood for fuel.
Ash was managed mainly as pollard trees reflecting their use for cattle and sheep forage as
well as having a protective role on stream margins across meadows; trees can survive several
decades in the ground - due to pollarding effects that maintain them in a partially juvenile
state. Its use as fodder depends on seasonal weather and is more intensive in dry summers,
when herbaceous growth stops early. Branches can be cut entirely ("ramalhos") and left to dry
in streets or on threshing floors, to be used later in winter to feed livestock when snow cover
the meadows.
Ash provides good timber and very resistant and durable poles or wooden beams, used for
construction and furniture, mostly tables and chairs. Ash is considered to be very good to
manufacture of curved elements of ploughs, harrows, rakes, scythes, tool handles, and certain
components of traditional rural carriage and also spindles used in winemaking. The shape of
the tree (trunk and branches) determines its use for special artifacts such as bow neck yoke.
Ash firewood has characteristics similar to cherry wood, oak and elm. Wood ash has high
calorific value and burns slowly.
The leaves are often used for cattle fodder at the end summer because they stimulate lactation
The medicinal use of ash involve infusions from leaves and decoctions of fruits (key or samara)
to reduce cholesterol, to relieve painful inflammations due to rheumatism and gout, and for its
laxative and diuretic properties. In the southern regions of the country decoctions made from
the fresh bark or the leaves were applied to heal scorpion stings and snake bites.
rees and pburnt at the end but, if
h will burn even under water one of the species used in Jewish
gardens, with the pollard top evoking circumcision practices and identifying Jewish homes. The
ash from ash wood fires was used, boiled in pots, to launder clothes and linen. People from
certain villages claim that there are two types of branches, the male and female; according to
this, women prepared infusions with the leaves from the female branches, which are those
with "some drooping leaves (fruit/samara)", and men drank infusions of leaves from the
branches without fruits. The shepherds from the southern region use to have a walking stick
made of ash that they used to put under the head while sleeping to keep away snakes and
Let me go quickly
to the ash to get a nest
The ash is breaking
With the weight of the bird.
I went up to the high ash
To cut a little branch;
For love that is understood
A little sign is enough.
Agata Cziesewska and Jacek Borowski
Ash is very common tree all over Poland, one can find it in lowlands as well as lower parts of
the mountains, usually on fertile soils close to rivers as an element of riparian forest but also
on elevated slopes. In the countryside it was traditionally used as a alee tree, but in parks
ashes are popular not only in typical - mostly as a single tree. In
Tatra mountains traditionally ash had been planted in front of the house.
Beside oak ash for Slavian tribes was the most important tree in the holy (sacred) groves. It
was thought that source of wisdom flow out from ash roots. Slavian water-finders used to say
moreover that ashes grow on ascendant watercourse in site of power. Sleep under the ash tree
had a wholesome (healthy) role and brought regeneration.
In Slavic  top reaches the heaven while its
roots were in hell. For Slavic people ashes attract thunder and lightning, and because of this
the tree was dedicated to the God Perun (the Slavic Zeus or Odin). In the past ash wood was
the best material for coffins, as it was believed to bring everlasting peace for the deceased.
Traditionally ash tree was the magic protection against the
evil eye
, also ash leaves put under
the sheet could help with a marital quarrel. In Poland ashes were sacred tree, so up today they
are planted close to churches.
Ash wood for the reason that its features as resilience, toughness, susceptibility to coloration it
was and still is used for wooden tools: sledge runners, wheels and ski, in the past also for
spears, lances and nowadays mostly for sport equipment such as oars and paddles but also for
furniture as veneer. The ash bark was used for dyeing and leather tanning.
In the past sprouts and leaves were often use as cattle fodder in such case ashes were
in a mixture with
other herbs to treat   
help with snakebites.
Kirsi Makinen
Ash is a southern boreal tree species in Finland. In Åland/Ahvenanmaa archipelago, ash even
forms woodlands, but in continental Finland it is only as individual trees or tree groups. In the
archipelago, ash is a dominant tree and a part of the traditional meadow culture. In these
wooded meadows, the open and closed landscapes form a small-scaled mosaic. These areas
were used for hay-making and coppicing for cattle. Ash woodlands in the archipelago were
often kept to get good quality timber for boat and ship building. It is one explanation why they
were remaining there, and not used for fuel wood etc. Moreover, the coppicing required a lot
of work and in the archipelago, there were not enough people to do coppicing, except near the
settlements. Ash communities in the mainland of Finland are thought to be relicts from warmer
climate periods.
The mainland stands are often situated near springs, where the soil freezes later than in
surrounding soils. Individual ash trees are mainly situated in groves and eutrophic peatland
forests. Sometimes small woodlands are encountered. One common reason for the small
number of grove forests in Finland is that many of these habitats are shifted to arable lands.
The clearing of forests using hard technology and the dredging of natural brooks have
damaged many stands. Some have benefited during decades from the cessation of pasturing in
forests and from the suspension of felling young trees for making horse-collar bows and boat
parts. In silviculture, ash is known to be a demanding tree, especially in Finland. The sites of
planting must be carefully chosen.
In urban landscapes, ash is rather a rare tree used in parks or courtyards. The ashes have
leaves rather a short period in Finland, because of late bud burst and early leaf fall. These
qualities of ash are often repeated like a warning not to plant this tree: ash is demanding,
susceptible for frost and has short-aged leaves. The noble characteristics of ash has not been
seen in Finland as in other Europe. In design, the qualities of ash could bring variety to mixed
The wood is easy to saw and plane, and it responds well to steam bending. Ash wood has been
used in wood handicraft, e.g. in boats and wooden parts of horse harnesses (e.g. collars). It
was also a valuable wood for decoration (carvings). Other uses have been handles of tools
such as axes, hammers and garden tools, and for the wooden parts of agricultural machinery.
In the Finnish tradition ash has not occurred often. In Åland archipelago it may have been a
holy tree (pitämyspuu). In the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, ash is mentioned once (as a
wood material).
Fig. 8: A group of young ashes in a suburban park.
Photo: Kirsi Makinen
Acer pseudoplatanus, Acer
platanoides and Acer campestre
Fig.9: Distribution of sycamore in Europe. Source: EUFORGEN
Fig. 10: Distribution of field maple in Europe. Source: EUFORGEN
The United Kingdom:
sycamore, Norway maple and field maple
Simon Bell
Sycamore was introduced to Britain sometime before 1500 and still rare in the 17th century.
Some people think it was originally introduced by the Celts and the seed used for flour, while
others believe the Normans reintroduced it, but there is no real proof of either of these claims.
It became more widespread and established during the last 200 years. The name comes from a
mis-identification with the sycomore fig (
Ficus sycomorus
) whose leaves it resembles. It is a
native of the Caucasus but has become naturalised in Britain.
Sycamore is a versatile tree growing in quite exposed areas up to around 500m and it is
tolerant to industrial pollution and salt from coastal winds, making it very useful for shelter in
many places. It can often be found along coastal areas where it is sculpted by the wind and
around farmsteads in exposed upland locations.
Sycamore seeds very prolifically and naturally regenerates itself, sometimes very competitively,
for example on sites where ash also grows, but due to its greater tolerance of shade it can out-
compete ash. Thus it is frequently seen as a weed tree by conservationists and has become
very controversial in recent years.
The wood, being soft and easily worked has been used for carving and turnery. It was used for
bowls and containers, Welsh love spoons traditionally given by a young man to his sweetheart
and more mundane items like butchers chopping blocks. The necks and scrolls of violins are
also made of sycamore. It is considered to have anti-bactieral properties, making it good for
use in food processing (the butc    f wavy grain sycamore are
extremely valuable.
It is mainly found in parks and gardens where it is prized for its autumn colours.
Field maple is native and grows as a small tree in hedges and woodland edges.
John McLoughlin
While sycamore is not native to Ireland it has now become a familiar tree. It is treated as a
weed by gardiners and by conservationist trying to restore our native woodlans. But for
householder in the West of Ireland on the edge of the Atlant standing up
to the high winds and salt spray it provides them with vital shelter.
There are no plantations of sycamore so the timber is not well known. Beekeepers are anxious
for more planting of sycamore or any Acer species to provide nectar for bees.
Sprigs of sycamore were placed over the door on May Day to ward off evil spirits, this tradition
lasted into the 1960s in the south of Ireland.
Tatiana Reeg
Sycamore can be found amongst deciduous forests, in hedges, along avenues and roads and
exposed in fields. This tree is common in hilly and mountainous areas, steep slopes and next to
mountain farms.
The leaves of sycamore were used for fodder by pollarding the trees. Sometimes only the
leaves were slipped off the branches by hand. Some sycamore species produce tasty sap, so
they were tapped.
Sycamore has a bright wood which is easy to work on. Therefore it was very popular for
-eye-humans and flowers were created with
sycamore wood. In past times, the wood was used to make cleats and household articles.
Today, the wood is popular for making propellers, furniture, billiard cues, veneer and stringed
instruments like guitar, violin and cello.
In former times, the leaves were given to livestock as fodder. It was said that leaves for
medicinal purposes had to be picked on the 24th of June. These leaves were dried and later
made sodden in boiling water and fermented. This medicine was supposed to soothe swellings
and to heal wounds. Sugar from the juice was produced during times of war and crisis, in
Germany the last time being during First World War.
In superstition, parts of the sycamore tree were quite important: Tenons made of sycamore
wood in doors and thresholds prevented witches from coming into a house. Branches put on
windows and doors the 24th of June protected from flashes of lightning. Branches of sycamore
put around fields of potatoes and flax drove away moles.
Fig. 11: Sycamore trees in the mountains of the Black Forest and at Burg
Photos: Tatiana Reeg
Urs Muhlethaler
Sycamore is found in mixed forests, sites with run-of-hill scree and moist gorges (Hart's-tongue
Fern/Asplenium scolopendrium sycamore maple forest), hedges, forest edges, often
alsoemployed as a tree for avenues and parks. It is a very beautiful species with golden bright
leaves in autumn. In mountain regions it is often found as a prominent solitary tree in
meadows or as a farm tree instead of lime or walnut, since it is less affected by heat. Ideal
species for protection forests thanks to its aptitude to heal lesions dues to falling rocks quickly
and to withstand snow pressure.
The sycamore maple is numbered among the most inelegant great deciduous trees. Within the
maple family the sycamore is the biggest and the one which grows fastest. After thinning
aimed to a closed canopy the Sycamore tends to develop many branches.
Sycamore maple wood is much in demand for large furniture, building of kitchens, parquets or
veneer, musical instruments, house or kitchen equipment, wood carving and turning. It is one
of the best woods for uncoated table boards, particularly hostelry tables.
It is said that sycamore maple wood has a disinfectant effect, which is why it is especially
appreciated in food hygiene.
In spring-time sycamore maple produces a lot if sap, which was earlier extracted to make
sugar. Still today maple syrup is a fine, rare drink and can be used to sweeten and to spread
on bread. Maple leaves were often dried and employed as straw for livestock in winter.
In the German language most of the trees have a female name. An exception is made for the
maple: that comes from a traditional meeting of men in Trun (Canton. Graubünden,
Switzerland), which from 1424 until now has been held under a sycamore tree. In 1870 a
storm blew down the five hundred years old sycamore. Already during pagan times and in the
early Christian middle ages the sycamore had a religious meaning and people wetted its roots
with wine. When someone felled a sycamore, then he had to bare his head and to kneel,
saying vows.
Italy: Sycamore -
acero, Norway maple - hevea acero
Laura Pennati, Francesco Ferrini
Mountain maple (Acero di montagna), growing as isolated trees or in small groups in mixed
broadleaf (Turkey oak, sweet chestnut, European beech, hornbeam, red spruce) forests, is
present in all regions of Italy with the exception of Sardinia at elevations between 500 and
1500 m above sea level. In the
zone it prefers cool, shady sites, while in
warmer and sunnier ones. This tree requires fertile, non acidic, cool soils which can have
various mineral nature but not compacted or even packed clay.
Sycamore maple (hevea acero) is the largest maple in Europe, reaching heights of 35 m. Large,
isolated trees are sometimes found in mountain meadows or near ancient constructions. In the
past it was often planted near colonial farmhouses to provide shade and to keep cheese
products cool. It is also widespread in parks and along boulevards.
The wood of this tree is ivory in colour with brown veins and it is among the most beautiful and
desirable as it is easy to work and long-lasting when used internally; it is often used in
furniture-making, for tool handles, items for the kitchen and musical instruments. The famous
lute-maker from Cremona, Stradivari, was the first to use mountain maple wood for the bridge
which supports the violin strings in addition to use for the base, side band and neck.
A mountain maple tree became famous in the Apennine mountains near Bologna for the
appearance among its centuries-old branches of a miraculous image of a Madonna brought
from the East at the time of the Crusades. In the shade of this tree, a chapel was built in 1358,
dedicated to the Madonna of the Maple and still today, on August 5th of each year, a
celebration is held. When cut, the trunk exudes a sap which, in the past, was used to combat
scurvy and to make an alcoholic drink.
  
             
principal characteristic which distinguished maple leaves, and in particular those of
. Norway maple is spread in both north and central Italy in the natural state and it
is a species of secondary importance given its limited diffusion. It is mesophyll and grows well
in valleys where the soil is deep, cool and non acidic (this is the most demanding of the maples
in terms of soil) under these conditions it makes up small groups or sporadic trees in mountain
thermophile woods composed of di European beech, Norway spruce and Turkey oak in
northern and central regions of the peninsula as far south as the Marches and Umbria.
This tree is also suitable for city planting given that it is tolerant toward smog and dust. The
leaves, differently from those of some ornamental maples, do not lose their green color even if
the plant grows on calcareous soil. Yellow-flowered corymbs appear at the beginning of spring
before the leaves. They provide a useful food source for bees during a period of the year when
few other sources are available. The wood is compact, pinkish-white, and less shiny than that
of mountain maple; it is heavy, homogeneous and easy to work. The wood of Norway maple is
utilized for the same purposes as that of mountain maple but it is more susceptible to wood
In Italy, field maple is widespread and common in mesophyll woods, above all in oak woods of
all regions, from sea level up until the lower reaches of the beech zone. It is one of the most
familiar plants of the rural Italian landscape. It was traditionally used as a living support for
grapevines when rows of vines were planted along the borders of fields of herbaceous
cultivations. Large specimens of hedge maple can still be found near farmhouses where they
are appreciated for the deep shade they offer thanks to their compact crown. This tree is also
used to form wind breaks, to provide nesting areas for birds and to hold the soil on bare,
sloped, damp and often rocky sites.
        -brown in color with uneven and
sometimes longitudinally wavy rings; it is heavy and tends to deform. It is used for handles,
toys, rifle butts and for the base, side bands and necks of violins. It is also excellent firewood.
The plant is very melliferous and its leaves provide outstanding forage.
The leaves of hedge maple have been used popularly as astringent and for invigorating baths.
A handful of dried bark added to bathwater can be beneficial for particularly fragile and delicate
skin. The leaves were used as fodder for sheep and goats for their tender and sweet leaf
lamina. It is said that Leonardo da Vinci got his idea for rotating wings by observing the
samara of a hedge maple, and Sikorskij invented the helicopter by watching the fall of maple
bordo, plátano-bastardo
José Castro, Ana Maria Carvalho
In northern and central Portugal sycamore it is an urban tree used for exterior decoration on
side roads, streets, plazas, church courtyard and some public buildings. It is not common in the
Portuguese rural landscape.
, , , (Sphendamnos,
sphendami, sphontami, krekezos).
Ioannis Ispikoudis and Olympia Dini-Papanastasi
Maples are native to Greece and there are several species.
Acer pseudoplatanus
L. (Sycamore
maple): In mountainous deciduous forests of central and northern Greece. Also used as
ornamental in alleys, parks, and gardens. The name pseudo (faulse)-platanus comes from the
resemblance with the leaves of the plane tree (
Platanus orientalis
Acer platanoides
(Norway maple): As scattered tree in mountainous forest all over continental Greece. Also used
as ornamental in alleys, parks, gardens.
Acer campestre
L. (Field maple): In forests and
shrublands all over continental Greece, woodpastures, in hedgerows and as scattered trees in
the fields.
The Greek name Sphendamnos is derived from
sphondylos = whorl, scroll or sphendoni =
sling. The name (krekezos), derives perhaps from the verb (kreko) = produce
sound. This is reasonable since the bodies of all traditional music instruments in Greece, such
as bouzouki, baglamas, outi, etc are made of walnut or combination of walnut and sycamore,
while the long arms of all these instruments are made of sycamore. The necks and scrolls of
music instuments are made also of sycamore. Its timber except its use for furniture and
veneers it is very suitable for many valuable wooden products such as musical instruments,
tools, woodcrafts. It is used for weapons (bows), turning, fine-woodcurving, handicrafts, for
wood mosaics (art) and small tools as well, especially for kitchen tools.There is a common
expression Sphendaminos, from wood of sphendamnos, which means powerful, strong, hard.
Sycamore wood, being soft and easily worked, has been used for carving and turnery. It was
used for bowls and containers. It is considered to have anti-bactieral properties, making it good
for use in food processing (the butcchopper boards in kitchens).
Rare examples of wavy grain sycamore are extreemly valuable.
It has medicinal uses also, such as antiseptic.
The wood is used for furniture. Its sap is saccharine, while its leaves usually are covered by
Sycamore is a versatile tree growing in all elevations, tolerant to industrial pollution and salt
from coastal winds, making it very useful for shelter in many places. Maples have great
aesthetic value and they are used as ornamentals in rows of trees in towns, in parks, and
gardens and a lot of cultivars, with leaves of different colours have been created for this
The Ancient Greeks considered that the maple tree was under the power of Fovos (=Fear),
ttendant. This was possibly because this beautiful tree during
the autumn gets a very rich red colour.
Acer campestre
: sphontami, krekezos  (klinotrochos) reported by
Theophrastus. There are several local names.
Klon jawor
Agata Cziesewska and Jacek Borowski
Sycamore is a native tree to Poland, it grows on fertile soil with alkaline pH, and it needs also
high humidity. Sycamore is distributed irregularly in the north eastern part of the country and
mostly in the mountains. One can find 17 different woodland types with sycamore in the
Sudety Range and 20 types in the West Carpathians.
The name Klon comes from the pre-Slavonic name of Klen or Klejn, probably deriving from the
ancient Greek word
name for Sycamore. Slavic people used to treat sycamore
as a magic tree. People believed that after injuring it the sycamore the tree cries and brings
misfortune to the man who did it he would start to cry in a similar way as the tree, and bad
luck would follow in the wake until the tree wound skinned over.
From XVIII century sycamore started to be the lovers patron tree. In many regions lovers met
under the sycamore and the tree started to be their confidant. Even today in most of folk songs
dedicated to love the lovers are present under the sycamore tree. One can find the name
Jawor in many places such as Jawrzno, Jaworzynka, Jaworki.
Sycamore wood has a feature of resonance, thus was used traditionally for musical
instruments: piano parts, guitar and violins, also spoons, boards, in the past also for simple
furniture as tables or stools.
In the past from the Sycamore the sap was used to make sugar and syrup, products which
were used against scurvy.
Fig. 12: A well-grown sycamore.
Photo: Agata Cziesewska
Acer platanoides metsävaahtera
Kirsi Makinen
Norway maple is an indigenous species that lives in Southern Finland. The tree thrives in moist,
eutrophic groves and mixed forests. Maple has scattered and scarce occurrence in Finland. It
is also spread from cultivated areas. Maple grows often in groups and as undergrowth. It
becomes a high tree only in the coastal area, mainly in Southern Finland. The clearing of new
arable land, grazing, and fodder for the household use have excluded maple from many earlier
localities. In the Central Finland, it grows in the forests only as undergrowth. In the North, only
on favourable places, it can become a small tree. Maple has been one valuated hardwood
among the others (lime, oak, elm) in mansion courtyards. In the urban areas, maple is
commonly used as a park and street tree, though it is susceptible for mechanical damages.
Among Finnish dendrologists and botanists, studies and writings of maple have been much less
 e. One reason for little botanical
interest was that the natural stands and cultivated maples have been difficult to differentiate at
least at the time before better genetic methods.
The maple wood is hard, dense and easy to carve. The clean bole portion of the stem is usually
short. Because of the scarcity of raw material, no significant industrial utilisation of maple wood
takes place in Finland. Traditionally, maple has been used rather seldom in wood handicraft.
According some mentions of rather rare sources, maple wood has been used mainly in rakes
and small wooden tools. More accurate descriptions reveal uses like, wooden parts of horse
harnesses and different kinds of furniture (chairs, tables, closets, benches). Wooden parts of
ploughs, harrows, shafts, wheels, shovels and flails were made of maple. The small household
utensils like bowls, plates and spoons were made of maple wood. Material was used also for
shoe nails and boot-trees (models for shoe making). Some people thought that a best handle
of an axe was of maple. Among wood, the maple leaves were used as fodder for the cattle.
Among the contemporary people, maple is sometimes mentioned as a beautiful tree for its
autumn colours (Guenat, 1995). In previous decades, rural people used to bring maple
seedlings from the forest to get a decorative tree in .
The folklore mentions maple rarely. There are still many old name variations of maple (
vaaher, vaher, vaheri
), and they have been studied in place names. These have been
suggested to reveal the ancient distribution of maple in Finland. There are 350 place names
that were derived from maple. Compared to the ecological data of historic times, the ancient
people had good knowledge of the occurrence of maple. Based on place names, it has been
suggested that maple was a valuated tree species in earlier times. Still, there is no evidence
that maple was a holy tree in Finland as in the South.
Tilia cordata and T.
Fig. 13: Distribution of Tila cordata in Europe. Source: EUFORGEN
Fig. 14: An old lime tree near a house
Photo: Tatiana Reeg
United Kingdom:
Common lime and small-leaved lime
Simon Bell
Tilia platyphyllos and Tilia cordata are both native species which interbreed to form common
lime (linden). Small-leaved lime (
T. Cordata
) is the more common of the native species. The
name linden comes from germanic roots and refers to the lind or bast, the fibrous cambium
layer growing beneath the bark and once used for textiles. Lime is not found in Ireland nor is it
native over most of Scotland.
Limes were often managed by coppice and pollarding and some extremely ancient examples
still survive, resembling a circle of smaller trees, the heart of the original coppice stool having
long since rotted away. An ancient coppiced Lime tree in the Silkwood at Westonbirt Arboretum
(near Tetbury, Gloucester, U.K.) has a stool which was thought to be as old as 2000 years.
special tree is probably really
more like 6000 years old. This venerable lime may be one of the oldest living organisms in
Great Britain. Lime-woods can still be found in places, especially in the Lincoln Wolds where
one of the biggest areas of woodland dominated by small-leaved lime can be found.
Limes have also been popular for avenues. Many have been used in the landscape parks of
stately homes, especially those of the earlier pre-Brown/Repton period when more formal
designs were common. The form lends itself to creating a linear enclosed space. Because it can
be propagated by layering it is easy to produce many genetically identical trees, important for
creating the regularity in an avenue.
There are many place names related to lime in the British countryside, showing its importance
in the landscape in previous eras. Lyndhurst means an open place in a forest where limes grow
The wood is very good for carving. The renowned woodcarver of the 17th century Grinling
Gibbons used lime wood for his exquisite carvings. As well as the wood, lime flowers are used
as a tea and honey from bees which collected pollen from lime flowers is also valued.
Tatiana Reeg
Lime trees had - and in some places still have - a major importance in the cultural landscape:
They were planted next to farmsteads and houses, on the central place of villages, in front of
monasteries and on places of pilgrimage. The lime tree was the tree of repose and
contemplation. On top of hills, lime trees were a symbol of freedom and peace. Often they are
planted in allees along roads.
Limes planted next to buildings served the purpose as lightning conductor, bee pasture and to
provide shade.
The lime wood is soft and easily worked; therefore it was (and is) used for carving, especially
for religious figures and altars during the Middle Ages, and for making toys, containers, chests
and wooden shoes. Today it sometimes serves as veneer.
In the past, Germanic tribes and North American Indians utilized the bark for making baskets
or for covering roofs. The bast was used to make clothes, string and ropes, e.g. on ships.
Diverse medical uses of leaves, flowers and charcoal from the wood are known. Most popular
still today is a herbal tea made from the flowers which has fever-reducing and sudorific effects.
The lime tree is a very important plant for beekeepers to gain the valuable blossom-honey and
honey dew. The perfume industry uses secretions to make the most attractive scents.
The lime tree is the most important symbolic tree for the Germans. In Germanic mythology,
the lime tree was associated with Freya, the goddess of fertility, love and truth. As she was
s (Thor) wife - the god of thunder - no lightning dared to strike this tree. Under lime
trees, usually situated in the centre of the villages, the Germans used to hold their judicial
Thing meetings.
   Under the lime trees, we use to sing, drink and dance and be happy,
because the lime for us is a tree of peace and j
trinken und tanzen und fröhlich zu sein, denn die Linde ist uns ein Friede- 
Another way to show the importance of this tree species is to look at place names: the word
Fig. 15: A row of lime trees near Freiburg
Photo: Tatiana Reeg
Urs Muhlethaler
Linden were planted for shade and as lightning attractors close to farms, especially on moraine
many hills of the Alps foothills as a landscape mark. Linden is also employed as park and
avenue tree, thanks to its resistance to urban pollution.
For its maintenance it is important to leave enough space and light, so that it can develop
 -           
helping soil amelioration; it tolerates half-shade.
Lime wood is a very soft wood, not very durable and sensitive to wet conditions: it is
appropriate for carving and turnery, construction of models, wooden shoes, toys, statuary and
musical instruments (i.e. harp). The linden charcoal is particularly good. Its coal was also
adopted for the fabrication of gunpowder.
Linden bark contains a lot of bast fibres, used in the past to fabricate garden ligatures instead
of raffia, cockle, ropes (Vedel et al - Schnieper 1999). Linden blossom tea, mostly obtained
thirst-quenching. Linden blossoms (scientific name: tiliae flores) are also employed for medical
purposes: they contain
(glucose) and tannin. They have positive effects against colds,
headache and earache; they also reduce fever and help to expel the sweat from the pores.
From linden blossom a liqueur is obtained, employed for making   
(Switzerland), and an ethereal oil, very fragrant, used as additive in the perfumes fabrication.
Linden is also interesting for the honey production from the nectar and the honey dew from
the leaves.
Linden in the past were planted as court tree in the farms: they stand for quietness and
equilibrium. They were also planted close to churches and chapels, as trees of peace and joy.
Justice linden and linden in town centres are known since the Alemanni times. The word
 
court cases were dealt with and no heavy decisions were taken. As a justice tree its task was to
soften the heart of severe judges and to purify the soul of accused. Every town and locality
maintained its dance linden. Because of that the tree was shaped since it was young: its main
branches were forced to grow horizontally, helped by woodpiles or stone columns; the top was
cut in form of stairs and planks were placed within the branches. In this way, after some time,
a kind of vegetal hospice was growing, where the musicians established themselves to play for
the dancers.
Many names in German speaking countries derive from linden: Lindenmann, Lindenmaier,
Lindenlaub, Lindenberg, Linder, Lindner, Zulindner. Linden appear also in locality names as i.e.
Lindenholz in BE (CH). It is also found very often as hostelry, street and place names (i.e.
Lindenweg in Wabern). The most beautiful lindens to admire in Switzerland are in the north
shore of Walen lake.
To celebrate the liberation of canton Vaud (CH) from Bern domination in 1798, several
whole canton. At the commemoration in 1898 many linden were planted in the canton and
later, s from 1789 are
still alive today. The oldest linden in Switzerland is in Linn on the Bötz mountain and it is
reputed that it is more than 1000 years old. Linden 
because in the Middle age many Christ and holy figures statues were produced from it. Linden
     well describe its wood. Linden is considered by many
people to be a symbol of love and fertility, probably because of the ethereal oil contained in its
blossoms, Farnesol, a pheromone, which acts as a sexual attraction scent.
Tiglio d'estate, Tiglio riccio (selvatico)
Laura Pennati, Francesco Ferrini
Large leaved lime is found in all Italian regions (with the exception of Puglia and Sardinia) in
mountain mesophyll woods or together with European beach, silver fir and mountain maple on
wet sites up to 1200-1500
m above sea level, in association with
. It
can also be found at lower elevations but it needs a very high hygrometric state.
prefers cool, deep soils that are rich and nutrients, preferably near neutral pH but
also calcareous or, although less preferable, slightly acidic as long as they are well drained.
This species flowers several weeks before other limes and it is attractive for early bees. It is
rare to find saplings of this type of lime in a natural state as it is greatly appreciated and
greedily eaten by grazing animals. In woodland areas open to livestock, the oldest limes are
often stripped of leaves up to the height where animals can reach. Once established, it is a
resistant tree which beautifies parks and public gardens. It is long-living and, by contrast with
other species of the same genus, it does not produce root-suckers. As it resists pruning, even
when severe, it is frequently used along roadsides while it is not of great interest in silviculture.
The wood is ring porous, whitish or pink in colour, opaque, with medullary rays which are small
but visible to the naked eye; it appears sericeous, is soft, non-durable, and easy to work; it is
used in carving, fine carpentry and cabinetry; it is not good as firewood but it is used for the
production of charcoal for drawing. Lime flowers are intensely fragranced, rich in an essential
oil (farnesol) that is used by herbalists for its beneficial properties (antispasmodic, sweat-
inducing, emollient and sedative). All limes are heavy metal accumulators, making them
purifiers of air and soil, but for this reason it is important to only use linden-based products
from unpolluted sites. Even honey or calming infusions should not be underestimated: if their
precise origin is unknown, it is better not to use them. Herbalists advise lime honey for children
who do not sleep much and those who, in winter, suffer from recurrent bronchitis and coughs.
The oldest lime known in Italy is one growing in Macugnaga (NO), believed to have been
planted in the 13th century.
Small-leaved lime is more continental and thus it is less widely distributed in the southern
regions of Italy; it grows in phytoclimatic zones corresponding to
where it can be found also at rather high elevations (1700 above sea level). It prefers deep,
cool and nutrient-rich soils but, compared to large leaved lime, its tolerance for intense light
and acidic soils is less and it resists drought better. These trees are not very sociable, they
never form pure stands, but rather are found sporadically in small groups mixed with sessile
oak, maples, ashes, hornbeams and Turkey oak, as well as with common beech and silver fir.
They are often found in parks, large garden and along roadsides with other non-native limes
even outside their usual vegetation zone, for their canopy, beauty, fragrance, majesty and
Limes have been used for the shade they provide since the beginning of time: there is
documented evidence that the Greeks and Romans used lime trees for this purpose. Instead,
for Pliny, the lime was one of the trees of happiness because its bark, when left to macerate,
yields long fibres which were then used to weave the ribbons to tie the crowns dedicated to
      
because elders met around the trees to pass judgement. Lime branches were also considered
able to send witches away from forests and to protect from lightning or bad spirits.
The wood of small-leaved lime is similar to that of other limes; it is however lighter than large
leaved lime, with alburnum and duramen which are indistinct (omoxilous), ranging from
yellowish-white to slightly pink in color, sericeous, widely porous, and with medullary rays
which are small but visible to the naked eye. It is soft and exposed, it is short-lasting. While it
is difficult to work it is attractive and is used in fine carpentry, cabinet-making and in modelling
for its lightness and resistance. Since it does not easily suffer from deformation, it is still used
today for resonance boxes and for piano and organ keys. The flowers contain mucilage and
essential oils; when dried in the shade, they are used to prepare calming, diuretic and
emollient infusions.
The charcoal obtained from coppice lime  
charcoal. The sawdust from lime wood was sometimes used to feed animals for its elevated fat
content. From fresh linden sapwood mucilage is obtained which can be used to cure wounds;
also the bark contains mucilage and some glucosides (vanillin, tiladina) that are medicinal and
which have been used popularly since antiquity.
: , , , (Philyra, phlamouria,
philouria, lipa
Ioannis Ispikoudis and Olympia Dini-Papanastasi
The name              ) =
 All of them are native species.
Tilia cordata
T. parvifolia
Ehrh.) (Small leaved lime): As scattered trees in forests of Macedonia and Thrace
(Northern Greece).
Tilia platyphyllos
Scop. (
T. grandifolia
Ehrh.) (Large leaved lime): As
scattered trees in forests of continental Greece and in the islands of Eboia and Corfu
Tilia tomentosa
Moench (
T. argentea
Desf. & DC) (White lime): In forests of central and
northern Greece and in Eboia island. All the above species are used also as ornamental in
urban areas (parks, gardens, and alleys), centers of villages, in front of churches, in several
yard/garden of village houses).
There is a common expression Philyrinos, which means lig. Their wood is
used for paper pulp, hard board, woodcrafts, food boxes, shoetrees, fuel, charcoal, gun
powder, musical instruments, while their bark is used in basketry etc. Their wood is whitish,
light, lancewood, easy to be treated and useful for many products. The wood is very good for
carving, especially in churches, which is why lime is called the tree of the Virgin Mary.
The inside of the bark (bark fiber) 
rot, thick clothes for wrapping goods and other hosiery. Their leaves are eaten with great
pleasure by sheep and goats as well as by cattle. Like wood, lime flowers are used as a tea and
honey from bees, which collected pollen from lime flowers is also valued. Limes are used for
medicinal purposes and for natural dyes (nutshell, bark, roots)
Limes were often managed by coppice and pollarding and some extemely ancient examples still
survice. Limes have great aesthetic value and have been popular for avenues, used as
ornamentals since the classical period. Many have been used in rows of trees in towns, in parks
and gardens. There are many place names related to lime in the Greek countryside, showing its
importance in the landscape in previous eras.
Sacred symbol in Greece, the symbol of the female ancestor of the human race. Pyrrha
 the Redhead. She married Deucalion and became through him the mother of the
human race after the mythical cataclysm. When Zeus felt that the men of the Bronze Age were
so steeped in evil that he had better destroy them, he decided to unleash a great flood upon
the world and drown them all. He decided to save only two decent people, Deucalion and his
 Pyrrha    ide.
When the flood had abated, Zeus sent Hermes down to them, to tell them they could make a
wish and it would be granted. Deucalion wished that they could have some companions. Zeus
s (meaning stones -
the bones the Earth, the great Mother of all). So Deucalion threw stones over his shoulder and
from the stones he threw sprang men. Pyrrha followed suit and from the stones sprang
women. However, in another version, Deucalion threw acorns and Pyrrha threw seeds of lime.
This version of the myth shows the importance of these two trees, used for leafy hay for the
winter, for the survival of humanity.
It was the symbol of Uranus, the symbol of Poseidon (Neptune), the god of the seas and Ares
(Mars), the god of war as well. Philyra ( ) was the mother of the centaur Chiron whom
Cronus loved. Chiron was born on Mount Pelion, in Thessaly, where his mother lived with her
son in a cave. Later she helped him to rear the children who were entrusted to him, in
particular Achilles and Jason. Perhaps Mount Pelion was covered by limes at that period. It is
the tree of all fairies and it cures the sickly children.
Tília, Tila
José Castro, Ana Maria Carvalho
Nowadays lime is cultivated more frequently and is found in the streets and along roads, widely
distributed over the country; it is also an urban tree used for exterior decoration along side
roads, on streets, plazas, courtyards of churches and some public buildings.
Its wood is suitable for joinery, but not common.
Fig. 16: Tilia platyphyllos
(limes) around a square of a
mountainous village in Central
Photo: Ioannis Ispikoudis
The lime flower infusion is highly appreciated and recommended as relaxant to insomnia and
diuretic, and used in colds, cough, fever, infections, inflammation, high blood pressure and
headaches. It is also considered a honey plant.
People say that formerly lime should be found in the "estates of noblemen, in the courts or the
churches, because poor people did not have anywhere to grow it".
Agata Cziesewska and Jacek Borowski
Both species of lime are native to Poland, but smallleaved lime is more common. Limes used
to be found on fertile soils in sunny or semi-shaded places. Trees are frost resistant and
sensitive to soil salinity. Limes and particularly smallleaved lime are important allee tree in the
Polish landscape, and also popular as a single tree. Nowadays limes can hardly be introduced
to urban areas due to their sensitivity to salinity caused by de-icing chemicals. Limes are
common in fertile mixed forest, but now it is rather rarely planted by foresters. Remnants of
lime forests are uncommon, most being protected as nature reserves.
Lime was the main pagan tree being an element of holy groves, as well as symbol of women,
then in Christianity it became the symbol of the Virgin Mary. The tree was a symbol of family
protection - planted with the birth of children usually in noble families limes were planted
when girls were born and oaks for boys. Also, baptism was, in many occasions connected with
this tradition of planting lime usually the tree and child gained the same name. New lime
trees also often appeared after the wedding, and especially when the young couple came from
neighbouring families the tree was planted on the border between both estates. For many
years lime trees commemorated important events for the village but also for all the country as
conclusion of peace.
Many names derive from the lime tree also the name of the month of July (in Polish Lipiec) -
as a symbol of the lime blossom time, but also name of villages such as Lipniki, Lipnica, Lipka
or Lipce (known from a novel by Prus about Polish peasants). One of the most common poems
about the lime tree is by Jan KochanowsOn the Linden Tree from 16 century.
On the Linden Tree
Guest, sit beneath my leaves and rest at ease!
The sun will not reach you here, I promise,
Even if it truly soars, and straight beams
Draw the scattered shadows under the trees.
Here cool breezes always blow from the field,
Here nightingales and starlings sweetly keen,
From my fragrant flower, industrious bees
Take honey which graces nobleman's feast.
With my soft whisper I know by what means
To lull you with ease into sweetest dreams.
Though I do not bear apples, my lord prizes me
The most fruitful plant among the Hesperian trees.
The wood assured peace of mind, therefore it was used for cradles and also for coffins
particularly for young people - but also for spoons (people believed that food eaten using a
lime spoon is harmless) and fiddles. Lime with its soft wood is an important timber for
woodcarving, for example the most famous altar in Poland located in the Mariacki Church in
Cracow made by Veit Stoss (in Polish Wit Stwosz), but also holy figures are found in many
churches and chapels.
Among Slavic Tribes other uses of lime were common such as ropes, baskets, and bast shoes,
but also to make charcoal. Lime wood because of its stability when dry, was one of the best
material for icons.
Traditionally, lime produces crucial nonwood products mostly from its flowers honey, tea,
nectar, pollen and honey dew, in the past the seeds were also used to press oil, while leaves
were used to feed livestock. Probably the best nectar honey in this part of Europe is lime flower
honey it has a rich and pleasant aroma reminiscent of the fragrance. It is yellowish green or
light amber, and since many centuries has been used to brew mead. The art of making
beverages from honey was initiated by Slavic tribes over 1 thousand years ago. The old name
of mead is drinking lime (in Polish lipiec pitny).
The favorite lime tree can be also found in many town and village names such 
on the sites of old places of Pagan cults or groves.
(Tilia cordata, T. platyphylla, T. vulgaris metsälehmus, isolehtilehmus,
Kirsi Makinen
Lime is one of the most northern of the valuable hardwoods in Finland. It grows on sites
ranging from dry to moist eutrophic. Usually lime does not form large woodlands, but there are
a few places in Southern Finland, where lime forms small forests together with maple
(protected areas). Limes are encountered near the northern sides of cliff walls. It also occurs
in some nutrient rich esker slopes in Southern Finland.
place names in Southern Finland. It has been suggested that especially the origin of Finns in
the East (Russia) also influenced in the knowledge of uses of the lime trees. Old Finnish
names for lime are called e.g.
, which are rather strange names to
modern Finns. The name
is possibly the same origin as in Estonian, Ingrian and
Livonian languages.
Lime stands have decreased in Finland through both human activity and changing ecological
conditions. Many lime habitats in lower lands have been converted to cultivation in Southern
Finland. The bast tax and slash-and-burnculture changed the habitats of lime trees. The
changing climate has affected to the occurrence of lime. It used to be much common in
warmer climatic periods. In our times, the northernmost stands have lasted due to coppice
management and good shade tolerance. The lime seed do not ripen in the current climate in
Finland. Moreover, lime has to compete with spruce on nutrient rich soils.
In the countryside landscape, lime has been planted along the manor allees and as individual
trees in their courtyards. Lime as a homestead tree has not been very common. Less than 1%
of inventoried homestead trees were lime trees. Most homestead trees were found in SW
Finland, in the archipelago area. The trees are usually in mixed groups or form small stands.
The lime allees are very rare in the countryside.
Lime is very common as a park and a street tree in urban areas. In early 19th century, the
Russian emperor gave a command to plant boulevards and park trees in the young capital,
Helsinki. Lime was also introduced into urban landscapes in those times. During during thelast
decades, lime is found often in newer urban landscapes. In the capital city, the number of lime
trees is between 20000-3000 trees, which are growing in the parks and along the streets. The
most common species are nowadays Tilia vulgaris (58%), the second one is T. platyphylla
(18%) and the third, T.cordata is 7%.
Lime may have been the oldest valuable hardwood in Finland (Hinneri 1996). The hardwood is
valuable for small-scale wood industry (furniture etc.). The wood is soft and light which makes
it easy to carve. The wood is not very durable. Earlier, timber was used in skis, fences and
shafts. Bath whisks (bunches used in the sauna) were sometimes made of it. In Finland, lime
is very rarely cultivated for timber. The cultivation could be possible in Southern Finland, but
there are many challenges to grow it.
Ropes made of bast (niini) were important in the shipping industry. A bast tax was collected
also in Finland (in Swedish period) and lime stands suffered from this activity. Actually, after
the 17th century, there were not enough trees left to collect tax. Lime bast has has been also
used in nets, carpets and sacks for grain and flour. Lime ropes and nets dating from the Stone
Age have been found in Finland.
In folklore, the lime tree was not mentioned often, possibly because it is such a rare tree in
forests. The folk poems and songs mention lime ropes. In the Kalevala lime is mentioned
several times, as wall and floor material and in cradle material.
Fig. 17: Lime in urban landscapes. It is very commonly used park and street tree.
The first photo is from the Esplanade, in the historic city centre of Helsinki, a
park from the Empire period (when Finland was part of the Russian empire. The
second figure is from a city centre Helsinki housing area from the 1970s
Photos: Kirsi Makinen
Prunus avium and
Prunus padus
Fig. 18: Natural distribution of wild cherry (Prunus avium).
Fig. 19: Wild cherry in
flower on a Greek hillside.
Photo: Ioannis Ispikoudis
United Kingdom: Wild cherry or gean -
Prunus avium
and Bird
- P.padus
Simon Bell
Both species are native species.
(wild cherry or gean) is mainly found in the south of
P. Padus
(bird cherry) in the rest of the country. The species prefer deep soils over
imestone or chalk or else alluvial or flushed soils on valley slopes.
Both grow in woods and in open or woodland edge landscapes. When they are in flower along
woodland edges they make a strong contribution to the landscape.
Cherry wood is hard, fine-grained and used for turning, especially the large burls with unusual
grains which can appear on the trunk. It is also used for making furniture, and its red-brown
wood polishes up well to a deep, shiny brown colour.
Recorded folklore for either the wild cherry or bird cherry is sparse, and it seems likely that
some folklore was indiscriminately ascribed to either or both of these trees when encountered
in the landscape. In the north east of Scotland bird cherry trees were known as hackberry or
hag berry and warned against using the tree's wood for any purpose, as it was considered a
witch's tree. An infusion made of the stalks of the berries was used medicinally to treat
bronchitis and anaemia. Wild cherry folklore has unusual associations with the cuckoo, whereby
the bird has to eat three good meals of cherries before it may stop singing. Similarly, a
children's rhyme from Buckinghamshire says:
'Cuckoo, cherry tree,
Good bird tell me,
How many years before I die',
the answer being the next number of cuckoo calls the singer heard.
Gean and bird cherries were both used to flavour alcoholic drinks such as whisky or gin, and
cherry brandy can easily be made by filling a bottle with wild cherries, adding sugar, topping
up with brandy and leaving for a few months. The resin which leaks from the trunk was
formerly used by children as chewing gum. It is recorded as a treatment for coughs, and when
it was dissolved in wine, it was used to treat gall stones and kidney stones. The bark was used
to make fabric dyes, ranging in colour from cream to tan, while a reddish-purple colour was
derived from the roots.
Ireland: Wild cherry Crann - Silín fiáin; Bird cherry Donnroisc
John McLoughlin
Like the birches there are two species of cherry native to Ireland: bird and wild also called
     
flowers. The dark berries ripen in August but can be difficult to locate in a wood; you have to
find it by the 15 August as the birds may have found it before you! Today, many imported
cultivated cherries are planted in our towns and cities and they give a great splash of colour in
early summer. Cherries have a most attractive flaky bark with horizontal rings. The wood from
cherry has a distinctive reddish colour and is much sought after, cherry- wood is one of the
most valuable timber tree grown here. The tallest tree is 15 metres
nd cherry is not represented
in the Ogham alphabet indicating that it may have been scarce in Ireland - because of the
damp conditions cherry tends to be a short lived tree.
The cherry is a symbol of youthfulness, beauty and love. The gum from the bark is said to be
useful for the complexion. There is very little lore about cherry again emphasising its scarcity in
earlier times.
Wald-Kirschbaum, Vogelkirsche (P. avium)
Traubenkirsche (P. padus)
Tatiana Reeg
In the Southern part of Germany, cherry trees have often been planted in avenues along roads
and on vineyard terraces. The reason for planting them in the vineyards was on the one hand
to harvest fruit in early summer, on the other hand to attract birds that also feed on vermin in
the cultivations. Additionally, its early bloom served the bees and therefore local honey
production. It is a pioneer tree which needs much light, growing on clearings, at the edges of
woods and on waysides.
very popular and is well prized for high-
quality veneer, music instruments, crafts, turning and inlays.
South Germany is famous for its cherry products such as cherry-schnapps (Kirschwasser),
juice, must, jelly, liqueur, compote and Black Forest Cherry Cake. In times of war or famine the
cherry seeds were used to 
haemostatic and beside that was used in the Kattun-cloth printers. The young leaves can be
part of teas; an infusion of the dried stalks is said to help against coughs. Even the
            
into bed.
Tales concerning cherry trees are e.g.: In the moonlight, ghosts haunt under cherry trees, and
fairies dance there. bath water should be emptied under a cherry
tree, so that the girl became beautiful. The fruits were a symbol of love, likewise of a sinful and
immoderate love. Flowers and fruits could serve for marriage oracles. Branches of cherry trees,
) and put into a vase, are supposed to flower
on Christmas Day.
Fig. 20: Flowering cherry trees
in Southwest Germany.
Photo: Tatiana Reeg
Merisier, Cerisier des bois (P. avium)
Merisier a grappes,
Bois puant (P. padus)
André Gavaland
Wild cherry comes from Middle East. It is said that it has been planted for the first time in
Europe in year 44 B.C., the day when Julius Caesar was murdered. Since the Middle Ages, wild
cherry fruits were commonly eaten and horticulturists selected early species.
Domestication of wild cherry led to the cherry tree from which derived sweet cherries, with soft
flesh and bigarreaux, with firm flesh. Two other cherry tree species are grown in France,
Prunus cerasus
, with acid fruits, and
an interspecific hybrid between
P. cerasus
Wild cherry and the cultivated cherry can be distinguished by trunk length, shorter for the
latter, and branching habits: branches of cherry tree are bigger and crown is larger, while Wild
cherry is more slender. Wild cherry is  (latin name
means bird),
though not ot be confused with P. padus, also called bird cherry in the UK and Ireland. It can
be found in hedgerows or on abandoned arable lands. It is a typical tree species of forest
borders or of degraded forests next to areas occupied by people. Wild cherry is spread almost
all over France except in the Landes and in the Mediterranean area. It is scattered in forest
stands (on average ten stems can be found per hectare), always associated with other tree
species, mainly oaks on acid and neutral soils.
Wild cherry is a fast growing tree species producing reddish wood with very fine grain in high
demand for cabinet-making and stringed instrument making.
Wild cherry fruits, small berries of dark purple colour, are edible but bitter, contrary to
cultivated cherries which are bigger and sweeter. They are used to make jam or tarts and are
also used to produce kirsch by distillation. These fruits are well-known to be diuretic because of
high potassium concentration (2.5%); they are also rich in vitamins A, B and C and nutrients
(K, Na, Ca, Fe and P).
Wild cherry stalks have diuretic and astringent properties. They were infused with cinnamon
sticks or prunes (to reduce bitterness) as a traditional medicine. Leaves and seeds contain
hydrogen cyanide at very low concentration; consumed in small quantities, they can stimulate
breathing and improve digestion, but high quantities may lead to stopped breathing and
possibly to death.
Wild cherry is also associated with some symbolic value: wild cherry wedding correspond to
53rd wedding anniversary.
Ciliegio selvatico(P. avium)
Laura Pennati, Francesco Ferrini
Cherry is found in all Italian regions, as a sub-spontaneous or cultivated plant, even if in some
sub-acidic mountain broadleaf forests it is probably spontaneous. It occurs from the cold
subzone to the
zone, but it seems that its optimal setting is the warm
It is an heliophilus, rustic and plastic species that can adapt also to carbonate soils; very
tolerant also to low temperatures. It is found sporadically or in small groups together with
other deciduous broad-leaf plants but it is present also along the margins of the most
thermophilic red spruce forests. On superficial, limestone-rich soils it suffers if there is a
shortage of water and prefers fertile sites that are especially rich in nitrogen and with sufficient
water. If these needs are met, along with adequate light, it is a useful species for reforestation
and it easily colonizes together with birch, as pioneer species, previously cultivated or grazed
The wood is reddish in colour, shiny and flexible, being used in cabinetry, for veneer and to
make pipes. It is good quality wood, even if the largest specimens have a hollow trunk. It is
currently considered a useful species for the improvement of both coppice and fruit-bearing
chestnut woods that have thinned out due to the death of the oldest trees.
fruit and also
because it is through this route that the seeds are spread over large areas: the seed is ingested
with the pulp, expelled with the faeces, and then falls to the ground under trees where birds
perch to sleep or digest.
In ancient times it was believed to be able to cure illnesses. In the Middle Ages, if a boy had a
hernia he was made to walk through a young cherry cut in half longitudinally. Then the young
two parts: how easily and quickly the tree recovered was an indication of hoaling
would be. There was also the habit during the winter solstice, a time when the sun was reborn,
to weave a cord of straw and tie it around those cherry trees that during the previous summer
had produced few fruits, and therefore were expected to produce well the following season, so
they would not be cut.
Greece: , (Kerasia, agriokerasia)
Ioannis Ispikoudis and Olympia Dini-Papanastasi
Wild cherry is a spontaneous species in Central-South Greece, Peloponnesus and Euboia island,
while in the forests of Northern Greece sweet cherry is growing too. Its cultivated varieties are
found all over Greece, while in some specific areas there are hundreds of hectares under
intensive cultivation. Usually they are grafted on
Prunus avium
and/or on
P. mahaleb
, mainly in
North-eastern Greece (Thrace)
As ornamental, it can be found in urban areas (parks, gardens,
alleys etc). In one town in Thrace it was the dominant tree along the majority of the roads.
It can be found in mountainous areas scattered in woods and in open or woodland edge
landscapes. When they are in flower along woodland edges or with their red folliage in the
Autumn they make a strong contribution to the landscape.
Cherry wood is hard, fine-grained and used for turning, fine-woodcarving and for wood
mosaics as well (art), especially the large burls with unusual grains, which can appear on the
trunk. It is also used for making furniture, while its stems were used for making tobacco pipes.
Cherries are used to flavour alcoholic drinks and cherry brandy can easily be made by filling a
bottle with wild cherries, adding sugar, topping up with brandy and leaving for a few months
under the sun. From cherries, kind of liquors such as  and a
also. The bark was used to make fabric dyes.
The resin, which leaks from the trunk, was used by children as chewing gum. Latex (gum) of
cherry fruits and trunks is used as medicine (antitussive), in the pharmaceutical industry.
The leaves after they are boiled can be placed on burns. An infusion made of the stalks of the
berries was used medicinally to treat bronchitis and anaemia. It is recorded as a treatment for
coughs, and when it was dissolved in wine, it was used to treat gall stones and kidney stones.
Boiled stalks of cherries were also used to treat kidney stones. Fresh cherries were preserved
in alcohol. The kernel of wild cherries contains a fragrant, thick oil, which is used for the
preparation of the Holy unction.
There are countless place names related to cherry (kerasia) in the Greek countryside, showing
its importance in the landscape in previous eras.
Cherries are reported in children's songs, proverbs and sayings, dream-books, Cretan folk
couplets, poems, folk songs and nostrums. The cherry tree is considered as the symbol of
This species was well known in ancient Greece since it was reported in a dialogue in the book
            
successor of Alexander the Great, for its tasty, juicy fruits and that it was known in Greece
before Roman Empire (Baumann 1999). Dioscurides (1st century A.D.) mentioned that latex of
      agacity and appetite and dissolved in wine treat
kidney stones. He mentioned the fruits of cherry tree as laxative, while Diphilos reported it as
very good for stomach and a lot of other and he mentions as the plummiest cherries, the most
red and those from Militos.
There are descriptions also, how and when to plant these trees in gardens.
Fig. 21: A Greek landscape with
cherries in flower
Photo: Ioannis Ispikoudis
In the of month Octoberand it is also possible to plant in paradises (= gardens) olive trees,
and almond trees and cherry trees and all the fruit trees a
Grafting: Cherry tree is grafted, peach tree is grafted on cherry, vine is grafted on cherry and
it produces grapes in May, when it is time for cherries.
Cerejeira brava, Cerdeiro
José Castro, Ana Maria Carvalho
A native tree, common north of the Mondego River and in the most interior eastern regions,
less frequently found in other regions. In the rural landscape, scattered cherry trees used to be
found isolated in gardens or on path borders. New plantations are replacing some abandoned
arable fields.
The wood is very good quality and sold for carpentry, joinery and construction. Cherry furniture
is greatly appreciated and valued, typically used for coffers and clothes chests.
The wild fruits are not often gathered, because they are only used for local production of liquor
or for traditional celebrations. There are three grown varieties: red fruits (the hardest), black
fruits (the softer) and white fruits (the later in the season). Black ones are the best for
medicinal purposes; the infusion of pedicels has diutetic properties and it is highly
recommended for the urinary system and weight loss.
In April and May near Bragança there are two annual fairs in which the tradition is to eat the
first cherries and use them as gifts for boyfriends, godparents and godchildren. Fruit pedicels
are assembled and twisted with cotton thread forming sprigs and sold in baskets during the
fair. Cherry trees are often mentioned in popular tales and songs as giving beauty to the
landscape when flowering.
Poland: C
zereśnia ptasia (or Trześnia)(P.avium) and Czeremcha
pospolita (P. Padus)
Agata Cziesewska and Jacek Borowski
In Poland it is native only in the south of the country as an element of the mixed forest on
fertile soil, but also quite often on the field edge, in shelterbelts or hedgerows.
Cherry is not often planted in parks, though it is used as a rootstock for ornamental cherries.
Quite a 
the light green colors of deciduous trees early in the spring hills make an attractive scene.
The interesting colour of the wood as well as other features, especially its toughness and
thickness, make cherry wood good for furniture tables and chairs, but also for musical
instruments, particularly flutes. In many cases the cherry wood replaces walnut wood as in
Poland where walnut is out of its range. Cherry wood was also used for bowls and plates.
Cherry fruits have important ecological value as a food for birds, and it was popular for making
syrup, tinctures, cordials and vodka one of the strongest!
Bird cherry can often be found along watercourses, on the woodland edges on fertile, moist
soils in complexes with ash, alder and elm therefore usually as a tree seen first by its white
flowers then lighter green against the dark wall of the forest. In the mountains bird cherry
mostly grows as a bush up to an elevation of 1150m. More often it is to be found in park where
the strong scent is connected to folk medicinal use as a disinfectant. In the forest experienced
tourists used to put a tent close to bird cherry because of the phytoncides derived from leaves
and flowers that are deadly for most microorganisms and insects. In the past bird cherry twigs
were used as a material to make wicker fences. The fruits are a delicacy not only for birds but
also mammals.
The Polish name czeremcha is originally a Ukrainian term. In the past in Poland there were
many synonyms such as: trzemcha, kotarba (popular Polish family name), kocierba, korcipa,
korciupa, kucipa, smrodynia (stinky).
A Masovian superstition said that when on bird cherry grows a grave the means that the
person buried there does enough feels regret and asks for prayers.
CHAPTER 5: BIRCH: Silver -
Betula pendula
Downy -
B. Pubescens
Fig. 21: Typical silver birch in autumn in Finland
Photo: Kirsi Makinen
United Kingdom:
Silver birch, downy birch
Simon Bell
Both are native species in the UK.
B. Pendula
(silver birch) is a component of other woodland
types such as oak on acid sandy soils.
B. Pubescens
(downy birch) grows with Scots pine in
Scotland. Pure birch woods occur in the north of Scotland but otherwide the trees are a
pioneer and a component of other woodland types. Both are effective colonisers.
The word birch is thought to have derived from the Sanskrit word
meaning a 'tree
whose bark is used to write upon'. When the poet S.T. Coleridge called it the 'Lady of the
Woods', he was possibly drawing on an existing folk term for the tree. Birch figures in many
anglicised place names, such as Birkenhead, Birkhall and Berkhamstead, and appears most
commonly in northern England and Scotland. Beithe (pronounced 'bey'), the Gaelic word for
birch, is widespread in Highland place names such as Glen an Beithe in Argyll, Loch a Bhealaich
Bheithe in Inverness-shire and Beith in Sutherland. The adjective 'silver' connected with birch
seems to be a relatively recent invention, apparently making its first appearance in a poem by
Alfred Lord Tennyson.
In Britain birch of either species are not known for their form, being usually branchy and not
very straight. The uses of birch are many and varied. The wood is tough, heavy and
straightgrained, making it suitable for handles and toys and good for turning. It was used to
make hardwearing bobbins, spools and reels for the Lancashire cotton industry. Traditionally,
babies' cradles were made of birch wood, drawing on the earlier symbolism of new beginnings.
Folklore and herbalism credit different parts of the birch with a variety of medicinal properties.
The leaves are diuretic and antiseptic, and an effective remedy for cystitis and other urinary
tract infections. They were also used to dissolve kidney stones and relieve rheumatism and
gout. The sap (as wine or cordial) similarly prevents kidney and bladder stones, treats
rheumatism, and can be used to treat skin complaints. The bark is said to ease muscle pain if
applied externally.
The birch has strong fertility connections with the celebrations of Beltane, the second, summer,
half of the Celtic year (nowadays celebrated as May Day). Beltane fires in Scotland were ritually
made of birch and oak, and a birch tree was often used as a, sometimes living, maypole. As
birch is one of the first trees to come into leaf it would be an obvious choice as representation
of the emergence of spring. Deities associated with birch are mostly love and fertility
goddesses, such as the northern European Frigga and Freya. Eostre (from whom we derive the
word Easter), the Anglo Saxon goddess of spring was celebrated around and through the birch
tree between the spring equinox and Beltane. According to Scottish Highland folklore, a barren
cow herded with a birch stick would become fertile, or a pregnant cow bear a healthy calf.
Maypoles were often made of birch and at Whitsuntide birch branches were used to decorate
churches where the sound of breeze rustling the leaves was said to resemble the sound of the
Holy Spirit descending.
Ireland: Silver birch -
Beith gheal Downy birch Beth chlúmhach
John McLoughlin
There are two species of birch native to Ireland, downy and silver. The most common is the
downy, which like silver birch is a delicate tree with fine branches and small leaves. In
springtime the flowers, catkins appear and remain on the tree and in autumn contain the
mature seed. Birch is a pioneer species and will grow on poor soils but it likes sunny positions.
Birch can tolerate higher elevations than any of our native Irish trees. Birch woods occur
widely, especially on marginal soils. Birch is used frequently as an ornamental in gardens and
in towns as it does not grow too large. Its small seed are prized by small birds. The tallest tree
is 25 metres.
In the Brehon Laws it was c
represented by B. Many place names derive from birch, such as Ballybay, Co Monaghan, béal
átha beithe (mouth of the ford of the birch).
Hängebirke, Warzenbirke (B. pendula)
Haarbirke (B.pubescens)
Tatiana Reeg
Birches can be found nearly everywhere in the open landscape, in small groups, lines or as a
single tree. Often, one or two birches frame crucifixes or wayside shrines. It is a typical pioneer
tree species growing in gravel or stone pits, along railway lines or in abandoned industrial
               
wooden shoes, tables, chairs, ladders, shafts and for turning. The first hunting weapons were
made of birch, it is good for making arrows. Today the wood of the birch is popular for
furniture, propellers and plywood. The structured wood is very popular for knife-handles.
Traditionally, different parts of birch trees were used: Besoms were made out of the branches;
naughty children were beaten with birch twigs. The whole bark was and is utilized to make
roofs, boxes, mats and baskets and for dyeing. The outer parts of the bark could be processed
-bark-served for preserving leather and wood, for sealing
up boats and containers and for healing wounds of animals. Its main use was glue, since
stone-age piles and feathers were stuck on the shafts. Furthermore, the bark was used to write
on instead of paper: books dating from the first century AD. written on birch bark are known,
From the medical point of view, parts of the birch were a household remedy against
rheumatism, gout, renal calculus and bladder stones; teas made out of the leaves and the pitch
helped against skin diseases.          
fungus) was harvested for medical reasons, mainly haemostatic ones.
The birch is a symbol of s 
birch symbolizes the awakening of spring. When young men put fresh branches of birch in
          proposal of marriage.
When cows leave their cowshed for the first time in spring, they should be driven by a branch
of birch to stay healthy and to give plenty of milk all year long.
Hängebirke, Warzenbirke (B. pendula)
Haarbirke (B.pubescens)
Urs Muhlethaler
Birch is found on high moors; acid soil, humid and rich of nutrients, often associated with
pines. It is also used as decoration in gardens or parks. There is a well-known birch avenue
between Wabern and Kehrsatz, close to Bern, in Switzerland. Especially decorative is the bark,
which is white, smooth and subdivided by black bands. In some municipalities from the region
of Locarno (TI, Switzerland) some laws from 1313 forbade the felling of birches. Interdictions
to chop down trees were not uncommon but pioneer trees were not usually regarded as
especially valuable trees. The exceptional prescription can be explained by the rarity of the
birch in this region and at that time. The presence of birch increased during the last century, as
a result of the increasing abandonment of grazing lands and other agricultural areas.
Birch wood is fine structured, light, ductile and elastic, commonly used for furniture, turnery
and wood carving. Birch is burns well, sought by bakers; its charcoal has a high calorific value,
which produces an intense and sustained warmth. During the burning process birch wood
makes nice flames and does not produce cracking noises; that is why in the past the
bourgeoisie used it a lot for their chimneys. Since birch bark stores the so-called birch tar, the
wood is burning even in fresh and humid conditions.
Its wood is often employed as support for game animal trophies (deer horns, chamois
decorations). It is also appreciated for its strength and its resistance. It gives anexcellent
construction plywood. Today it is very employed on buildings as prefabricated element or
facing material. Birch is also used to produce paper.
Birch branches were earlier used to produce brooms (besoms), that is the reason why today it
is still possible to find stocky birches close to many farms. From the bark it is possible to
obtain an oil, used as medicine. The sap coming out from the bark is sweet; once fermented it
Fig. 22: Group of birches accompanying a path
and the beautiful colour of birchin autumn
Photos: Tatiana Reeg
is employed to produce alcoholic drinks and vinegar. About hundred years ago from was even
fermented wine birch juice, although it is not possible to find it on the market today. At that
time it was produced as luxury article in regions were grapes were not grown. Birches also
have the ability to influence water content of human body. Tea and tree juice stimulate the
bladder and kidney, because of their content on flavones and saponine, without irritating them.
Birch is a proven remedy against dropsy, rheumatism, gout, arthritis, bladder and kidney
stones. Birch juice should strengthen hair. Birch charcoal is a component of a recipe used to
cure enteritis in dogs. In the past, during famine periods, birch was employed as food, by
grating the bark and mixing it with wheat flour (Vedel et al). Containers for smokeless tobacco
were also produced from birch bark. In fact bark oils gave a fine and unique flavour even to
bad quality tobacco powders. Ötzi, the 5300 years old dried body found in the Alps Ötz valley
in the nineties, had with him two bowls made of birch bark, used to transport embers wrapped
in fresh maple leaves to isolate the heat.
Farmers rules: when birch has catkin is time to sow barley! Many family names in German
speaking countries are associated with birch: i.e. Birch, Bircher, Birchner, Birchler, Birkhäuser,
Pircher and Pirkheimer. Locality names as Birchli (SZ, Switzerland) or Birchegg (LU,
Switzerland) are not very common. Birch is an emblem of spring because of its power that
awakes life. Marriageable lads used to leave fresh birch branches in front of their lovers
windows. Under birche: one of them
Amanita muscaria
) which can be lethal.
Betulla Bianca (B. pendula)
Betulla tomentosa
Laura Pennati, Francesco Ferrini
In Italy, silver birch is found in sub-alpine alder woods, in forest clearings, in alpine red spruce
forests, in Scots pine woods and also in pre-alpine heaths; it is sporadic in the northern portion
of the Apennines, not present in the central portion, and then found again along the Apennine
ridge in Abruzzo in small disaggregate stands. It is a tree of secondary importance in Italy. It
develops particularly well on sandy soils and on detrital slopes, and is used as an ornamental
tree in gardens thanks also to its reduced size.
The wood is homogeneous, flexible and workable, ivory-white in color and the alburnum and
duramen are not distinguishable; before being worked, the wood needs to be well seasoned
because it is subject to strong retractility. For centuries it has been used and appreciated for
particular purposes: for frames, decoration on carts and ships, furniture, walking sticks and
various objects made on a lathe. It is also used to make resistant but light plywood and it also
used in aeronautics and sometimes to make cross-country skis for dry snow. It can be easily
turned and for this reason it is used in the making of hand-made objects and light-coloured
furniture which can have attractive veining especially if wood from the zone between trunk and
root is employed. Industrial use of birch wood is common in Nordic countries, while in Italy
there are not large forests made up of this tree and so its use is largely as firewood. When
birch wood burns it produces a type of charcoal that has elevated absorbing potential and thus,
when finely powdered, it is used for intestinal disorders and mushroom poisoning.
From the tannin- and betulina-rich bark, a particular leather-tanning substance has, since time
immemorial, been obtained which gives the famou
the impermeable, resistant and insulating bark, shoes, shed and floor coverings, tobacco bags,
mats and progues are made. During the Second World War, when food was particularly scarce,
the bark of young birch trees was ground up to make a sort of flour for bread.
Birch bark was also well known for its tenacity and thinness by the Romans who used it to
make rods for the bands the lictors carried when they preceded the magistrates.
When birch leaves are treated with alum a green colorant is obtained, if it is boiled with clay a
yellow dye for wool can be obtained. In addition, the leaves can be used to make a diuretic
infusion for cardio-renal disorders; roots and buds can make a betulina alcohol decoction useful
for the cure of cutaneous ailments. Cutting the trunk provokes the escape of a very sweet sap
which, if left to ferment, produces alcoholic beverages and vinegar; if it is left to harden, it
takes on the consistency and taste of manna.
Downy birch is a rare and sporadic species in Italy, limited to a few peat bogs or damp woods
in the Alps or Karst as far as Monviso; in the Apennines it is found only in the Parmense area
(Corniglio forest). It is an heliophilus species, even if less so than other birches, however it is
more demanding in terms of water and for this reason it is found where there is a constantly
elevated amount of rainfall, while it is present on peat and swamp-like soils in areas where
there is alternation with dry periods. In Italy it is not a species of interest for forestry due to its
sporadic nature.
The wood is soft and, although it rots quickly in open air, it can be used for furniture, tool
handles and plywood. When used as firewood, it burns with a particularly luminous flame.
Birch sap is rich in sugars. Extracted in spring, it can be transformed into birch wine, with the
addition of honey. Birch oil is extracted from the bark and is used as an insect repellent.
Betula pubescens
buds stimulate all catabolisms and immune reactions, activating the
endothelial-network system. Leaves contain tannin, tannic acid, sugar, an alkaloid, an ethereal
essential oil, some glucosidi, nicotinic acid. The macerate obtained from
Betula pubescens
prepares and renders the therapeutic action of other macerates which are more specific for
, (simyda, vetuli)
Ioannis Ispikoudis and Olympia Dini-Papanastasi
Silver birch is found as a scattered tree or in small stands in high mountains of Northern
Greece. It is an effective coloniser. In some cases it is used as ornamental tree. The uses of
birch are many and varied. The wood is tough, heavy and straight grained, making it suitable
for handles and toys and good for turning. The sap is used to make delicious alcoholic liquor.
Its leaves constitute luxurious fodder (livestock food). Its long and whippy branches were used
for brooms and perhaps that is why birch is associated with witches.
Birch was used for tanning and for insect repellent lotions. The leaves are diuretic and
antiseptic, and an effective remedy for cystitis and other urinary tract infections. They were
also used to dissolve kidney stones and relieve rheumatism and gout. The sap (as wine or
cordial) similarly prevents kidney and bladder stones, treats rheumatism, and can be used to
treat skin complaints. The bark was used for stomach pain and it is also said to ease muscle
pain if applied externally.
Birch was the symbol of Sun and Moon. Athena, the warrior goddess of Wisdom, of Reason,
presided over the arts and literature, more closely connected with philosophy, patroness of
spinners, weavers etc, protectress and patroness of towns, is associated with olive tree and
birch. Strangely, birch was also the symbol of the Nereids too, although they were sea-dieties.
Their number is usually set as fifty. They were the grand-daughters of Oceanus and they can
possibly be said to personify the countless waves of the sea (
like the birch branches waving
under the strong winds in Northern Greek mountains?
). They were all very beautiful and they
spent their time spinning, weaving and singing. Perhaps this is the connection between birch,
goddess Athena and Nereids. According to folklore, being a tree in the foggy and mysterious
high mountains of Northern Greece, it was the tree of all fairies and of the witches.
- Brzoza brodawkowata (B pendula);Brzoza omszona (B
Agata Cziesewska and Jacek Borowski
Birch, both species are wide distributed all over the country; particularly
Betula pendula
is a
very common tree. Birches prefer light soils typical for fluvial or fluvio-glacial sediment
high range of moisture in the ground. In parks and garden it is used as a single tree
particularly the variety and also in groups. Furthermore one can find birches in allees
and double rows. Contemporary popular varieties are those with red and yellow leaves.
In forest management birches are common in pinewoods and also in acid beech wood habitats;
quite often it is planted on moors (
Betula pubescens
). It is popular also in mixed forest with
Scots pine and spruce, but rather rare in the habitat of rich dry-ground forest and riparian ash
Birches were very important in Polish traditional material culture starting with food. In the past
during early spring hunger happened quite often so people used to eat mixed bark of birch,
while leaves were used as cattle fodder. In spring people obtain the sweet water (sap) of
birches called
The oldest description about this procedure has been found in a text
dating from 1472. Birch water (
) contains plenty of nutrition. New age fashion and the
return of traditions in different areas make birch sap drinking popular again after 50 years of
falling into oblivion. Today in every health food shop it is easy to find birch juice, mostly
imported from the eastern neighbours of Poland (Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus). Birch water in
the past was also used to make vinegar, beer and syrup.
  
fresh leaves were used against rheumatism and the infusion of buds for diarrhea.
There is plenty of practical application of different parts of the birch. Twigs are used for
brooms; larger branches for fences, also to make some fishing tools. Birch bark was used also
in tanning; in the east of Poland women used to dye in birch bark into green and yellow
colours, but also to paint eggs for Easter. From the middle ages it was quite common to make
birch tar. In the north of Poland birch wood was the main material to make snuff-boxes. Birch
wood is a popular material for furniture and in the past often used by wheelwrights (to make
wheels for carts and wagons), turners (to make handles of many tools), coopers (to make
barrels), but also to make toys, match boxes and charcoal.
The magical role dominates the cultural values of birch in the past it was a strong
superstition remedy to prevent or cure disease. Birches have a particular role during Easter. In
Christianity this tree is a symbol of new life. Traditional palms that are taken to the churches
during Palm Sunday are sometimes made of birch twigs. It is believed that twigs of birch put to
the water on Palm Sunday brings happiness to house when the leaves appear up to Easter. In
many parts of Poland birch is a symbol of happiness. With Easter it is also connected to the
most important tradition so cal   girls with birch twigs;
they use to get some money and eggs for that. Bunches of birch twigs are also used by young
people to turn sleepyheads out of the house.
The next important celebration with an important role for birch is the feast of Corpus Christi,
when cottages and houses churches, chapels are still today decorated with young birches; in
some regions these days also cattle are decorated with garlands. These twigs later became a
remedy for many problems such as: put in the garden against moles, also put on fields of
flax (
), hemp (
Canapis sativa
) and cabbage, keep in the cow byre against pests. This,
as in many similar cases has Pagan roots and means magic protection against witches.
Birch is also related to Beltane when boys dance with burning birch twigs. The birch has long
tradition to complement familiar feasts. Shortly after baptism, when the child is brought home,
parents and grandparents used to put the child on the doorstep and lash him/her 3 times to be
more polite, they believed it would not be necessary to do it later on.
Birch is also the so-called good and merciful tree whose crying (sad) branches were
traditionally used for crosses on graves particularly after the Second World War it became a
symbol of young people graves (as partisans in the forest). According to Pagan myths birch on
grave protects against ghosts, with Christianity the tree was transformed into birch cross.
Rauduskoivu (B. Pendula), Hieskoivu (B.
Kirsi Makinen
Silver birch grows all over Finland except the most Northern Lapland. It is a pioneer species,
which grows both dry and moist forest soils. It is commonly seen in different kinds of forest
stands, in roadsides and along watercourses. In mature forests, it grows in mixed stands, but
sometimes pure birch woods are cultivated. Silver birch has been valued as timber and a raw
product in Finland. During centuries it has supplied many goods to people and cattle: timber,
fuel wood, sap, bark, and fodder.
For a short period of Finnish forestry in 1960s- 80s, birches were unvalued and removed from
the forest. Birches were called
White lies
of Finnish forests that were not economically
important but took the energy from valuable tree species like conifers. From this era, some
people call the birch a rubbish tree.
In Finnish tradition and landscape ideal, silver birch has many meanings. Legends, riddles,
folktales, charms and songs have told about birches. In many songs, a girl is compared to a
young birch etc. (SKS, sledge songs). Many people in sources of folklore data mention a birch
as a feminine tree. Usually the sacred trees were pines or spruces in Finland, but also
broadleaved trees were included, rowan, goat willow and birch. Often families had such trees
and they sacrificed food to them. If the tree got destroyed, the family was believed to be in
A birch belonged usually to the
good trees
in folklore (with spruce and pine). Some trees were
evil, but there were contradictions of these species, like rowan, ash, alder, willow and wild
cherry. One folktale tells of a birch formed of the tears of the Virgin Mary. Another story tells
how a birch once gave shelter to our Saviour against the sun, and he blessed a birch with a
light bark which protects it from frost and sun. Often trees became good or bad based on their
behaviour. In the Kalevala, a birch is an important tree, mentioned 69 time. At the era of slash-
and-burn culture birch was valued and worshipped as it gave so many goods for the people.
Since the time of national romanticism, lakeside birches are especially a part of the Finnish
mindscape. The birch has been a symbol of joy, light, and goodness. When Finland became an
independent nation, birch was given many symbolic values to represent Finland, - its nature
and its people. Many art forms expressed these values, such as visual arts, literature and
cinema in 20th century. An iconic image of Finnish films is a heroine leaning against a lakeside
birch in the setting sun. One well-known fairy tail of Zacharias Topelius is called
A birch and a
(1893), which tell about the lost children that found their home, in the memory of the
familiar tree.
In the countryside, birch has been grown in tree allees (e.g. manors, farms). Individual trees
are also popular in courtyards. In a study of a homestead trees in Finland, more than half of
the courtyards had birches. People are used to mention the birch among beautiful and even
romantic tree species. A home birch usually had a place of honour in the courtyard, and Finnish
people respected the trees in the yard. In 1988, silver birch was voted a national tree of
Finland. On midsummer Eve, young birches are often brought to the door sides of houses.
Fig. 23: Manor allee of birch in
Southern Finland. Especially
birches with weeping branches
are highly valuated among
Finnish people. Urban birch
woodland in Sibelius park,
Photos: Kirsi Makinen
Silver birch is an important species in the timber industry (saw products, veneer, paper, pulp
etc.). Birch furniture is popular in Finland. Traditionally, birch was also used for furniture,
carriages and sledges. In old-fashioned trams and trains birch wood was an important material.
An aeroplane-veneer was manufactured from birch. Legendary Finnish cross-country skis were
often made of birch wood. Other sports outfit, like javelins and ice-hockey sticks were also
manufactured. In agricultural societies birch wood was used in many agricultural utensils, collar
bows and other wood harnesses. Wooden parts of hammers, sickles and axes were also made
of birch. In addition, wood parts of rifles and shotguns were often of birch. All kinds of small
household utensils were of birch wood. Flavouress birch wood was used e.g. in butter and
herring jars. Also play tools for children were often made of birch.
Birch bark (
) has been a valuable product in northern Europe. It is very strong material
which tolerates cold, moisture, and it is light, durable and does not rot easily. Bark is used for
many handicrafts (bags, baskets, jars, boxes, ropes, etc.). People used bark-made bags
) to carry hay, fish, game and food. In fishing nets bark was used both as woven floats
and weights (a rock woven inside). Bark was also used in buildings (to protect trunks, also as
roof material). Both bark plates and strips were used as material. The folded plates
) were often used as simple jars for the berries, porridge and other kinds of dishes.
A smaller plate cup (
) was used to drink water from springs etc. Bark was also used in
shoes (
), belts, caps and hats. As a decorative and practical material, birch bark was used
in holsters for knives, axes and sickles.
Bark was most available in slash-and-burn areas. Birch was valued in these sites and these
woods were called
bark forests
. The bark was collected in
bark month
, one month around
Midsummer. Even in the 1920s it was allowed to take the bark from living trees. It was
compared to berry-
could take bark without limit (Harju, 1964). People used to criticize the appearance of torn
trees in birch stands.
Birch is favoured as a valuable fuel tree, because it gives hot steam in sauna and warms
houses effectively. There was a saying that if the coffee or food was very 
on th.
Birch ashes were used to produce potash (component of e.g. glass, soap). Moreover,
carbonised birch bark formed one kind of birch tar. Birch bark soot was used to manufacture
colour for black paint (
Birch is also linked to the cult of the sauna in Finland. The soft whisk (
) of birch
twigs is commonly used, although many urban Finns are no long aware of the traditional habit
of making and using bath whisks in the sauna. A sauna bath enjoyed with a properly prepared
whisk gives a feeling of relaxation. These branches are bound together in early summer (at the
time of haymaking), when leaves sit tightly and do not drop in use. The best material comes
from lower branches of fairly young trees. The whisks are used instantly or dried ones can be
hung from the rafters in a dry, dark room for use during winter. During winter, the whisk is
firstly soaked in hot water so that it becomes soft again. One family member explained that
they used to make 300 whisks for the winter. The extra whisks were given for the cattle. Dried
branches (
) were also collected for cattle for winter fodder. The best time to collect
fodder was the change of June-July. The leafless branches were also very much used for
Birch sap (
) has been collected as a common early spring drink. One adult tree could give
many litres. In some regions or traditions, only fallen trees were used for this, because the sap
collection damaged a tree. Sap was used for dishes and against the diseases. It was a spring
time drink after a long winter diet. It was also given to the cattle. Beer and lemonade was
produced of birch sap among richer families in 19th century.
Downy birch is spread even more in the North than silver birch. It lives in moist, medium or
high nutrient soils, such as peatlands. It is seen also in shorelines and roadsides or field sides.
Birch bark is also collected from this birch. Sauna whisks are not usually made of this birch.
The subspecies of this birch czerepanovii (
mountain birch tunturikoivu
) is a
hemiarctic-middle boreal species that lives in the Lapland, forming in many places the tree and
forest lines in the hill areas and uplands.
Another important subspecies is B.pend. var. Carelica (
Curly birch
- visakoivu
) is valued for its
decorative and hardy wood, that is used for furniture and other handicraft.
Fig. 24: Old backpack made of birch
bark. Modern birch bark containers.
Photos: Kirsi Makinen
Juglans regis