Paper or White Birch

Secwepemc name: bark: qwllín; tree: qwllínllp

paper birchBirch bark is highly valued for its property of easily peeling off from the tree in spring (April and early May) and early summer in large, tough sheets. If properly handled and stored, these sheets can be flattened and dried, then (after soaking in warm water) used in a variety of ways, for canoes, containers of many types, including baby cradles, lining for storage pits, roofing and temporary shelters, splints for broken bones and many other purposes. As well, birch wood is excellent for firewood, and can also be used for construction. Mary Thomas also stressed the importance of season, and also the importance of cutting the bark carefully so as not to kill the tree: You can only gather the birch bark, say late May, June, and then it starts to stick back; once it sticks, you can’t get it. So you have to get your supply when its ready . . . when its ready all you have to do is cut – and you just touch it a little and it just pops right off.   According to the weather the old people would know when to do it  and you have to be very careful that you don’t cut through that thin pulp that covers the tree — if you cut right through the sap will start to come out of it and you deprive the tree of the sap…. Once the bark is taken off it will not grow back but that pulp will turn into a hard surface and that protects the tree; the pulp, the juice will still go up and make leaves and it keeps the tree alive.

Birch wood is an excellent fuel, and rotten birch wood is good to use for tanning hides, as it gives a really nice colour. Many elders mentioned that the papery shreds from the outside of the bark are good tinder for starting fires.

Prefers medium rich, moist soil. Grows in floodplains and upland sites.