Birches have flowers in small clusters (catkins) which hang from the branches and mature before leaves emerge. Paper birch has white, peeling bark but some western varieties can have brown or coppery bark.
The sap and inner bark is used as emergency food. White birch can be tapped in the spring to obtain sap from which beer, syrup, wine or vinegar is made. The inner bark can be dried and ground into a meal and used as a thickener in soups or added to flour used in making bread. A tea is made from the root bark and young leaves of white birch. It was also used by native Americans to make canoes, buckets, and baskets. North American Indian tribes used white birch to treat skin problems of various rashes; skin sores, and burns. Prepared By Lincoln M. Moore at the USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center.