Birch – symbol of Russia
Birches have long been known for their beautiful bark. People use birch wood to make furniture, flooring, and plywood.
Birch trees are found in the northern half of the world. They grow in areas with cool to cold weather.
There are about 170 species of birch worldwide. They have narrow trunks and their bark is often white with black lines. Its leaves are usually bright green and they turn golden yellow in the fall. Birch flowers are called catkins. Each catkin bears flowers of only one sex but male and female catkins occur on the same plant. The fruit is a one-seeded nut which is often winged.
In Russia, birch switches are traditionally used to beat one’s skin during sauna baths.
The sap of birches is sweet and can be collected and condensed into syrup.
– The monarch birch of Japan is one of the tallest birches. It grows to 30 meters.
– The birch can live up to 150-320 years.
– In the spring a birch can give up to 50 liters of useful and tasty sap a day.
– The birch is one of twenty-two trees in Celtic Tree Calendar.
– Birch bark has long been used in folk crafts for making baskets, boxes, buckets, simple shoes (sandals), served as material for writing (birch-bark scroll).
– Often, this tree can be found in heraldry.
– To produce one of the most magnificent of the famous Faberge eggs Karelian birch was used in 1917. It was the last egg, produced and handed to the royal family by Faberge.
The fool and the birch (Russian fairy tale)
An old man had three sons. The two elder sons were quick-witted, but the youngest was a fool. When their father died, the two eldest made sure that the bulk of the estate went to them. At the local fair all three sons decided to sell their goods. The two eldest took the finest cattle, calves, sheep, and lambs, whereas all the fool had was a bony old ox.
The fool headed to the fair and passed through a wood. An old birch tree was groaning in the breeze—a sound that the fool took to be an offer for his ox. The fool bartered with the tree and finally agreed to a price of twenty rubles. The tree creaked again, and the fool agreed to leave the ox and return the following day for his money.
At home he told his brothers that he had sold his ox but had to return to collect money the next day. His brothers cursed him as a fool and left him alone.
The following day the fool demanded his money. The tree creaked and the fool decided it was a request for one more day’s credit. He agreed and returned home. His brothers called him every bad name.
The next morning the fool returned to the wood with an ax and cut down the tree. As the tree fell, a horde of gold hidden at its roots by long-ago robbers tumbled out. The fool filled his pockets with gold and went home to tell his brothers. The three brothers filled a number of sacks with the gold and lived happily ever after.
Here is a translation of Sergey Yesenin’s poem (1913) The Birch Tree. Unfortunately I don’t know the name of the translator.
Just below my window
Stands a birch-tree white,
Under snow in winter
Gleaming silver bright.
On the fluffy branches
Sparkling in a row
Dangle pretty tassels
Of the purest snow.
There the birch in silence
Slumbers all day long
And the snow gleams brightly
In the golden sun.
And the dawn demurely
Going on its rounds
With a silver mantle
Decks again the boughs.