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Species – Birch

Species Information - Birch

Species Information

Birch is a deciduous hardwood tree that is closely related to the beech/oak family. These trees are found in the Northern Hemisphere, primarily in the northern temperate and boreal climates.

The bark of every birch tree is marked with long, horizontal lenticels, which oftentimes separate into thin, papery plates. This bark is resistant to decay – thanks to the resinous oil it contains – and can be found in a variation of colors, including gray, white, black, silver, and yellow.

Birch has many uses, beyond as hardwood flooring. It’s used in furniture marking; birch-tar is used as a glue and medicinal purposes; silver birch twigs are used in saunas for relaxation; birch leaves are used for dyes and cosmetics; and birch bark was often used to create lightweight canoes, bowls and wigwams.

Scientific Names

There are dozens, upon dozens of birch species found throughout Europe, Asia, and North America. Birch is of the Betula genus, in the family Betulaceae (which also includes alders, hazels and hornbeams). Some of the more common scientific names for North American birch include:

Common scientific names for European and Asian birch species include:


Birch is found in the Northern Hemisphere of the world, in areas such as North America, Europe and Asia. Different species prefer specific locations. For example, Yellow birch prefers the Northern and Lake states of the US, as it prefers valleys and stream banks.

Crossover Names


Janka Rating

Factoring in the many species of birch made available for flooring, there are three that you’ll typically come across: Paper birch; Yellow birch; and Sweet birch.

Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) is the softest birch wood flooring, scoring a 910 on the Janka scale, and making it slightly softer than Black Cherry and Red Maple.

Paper Birch Janka Scale Rating 910

Yellow birch is harder than paper birch (scoring 1,260), and making it equivalent to certain oaks and green ash.

Yellow Birch Janka Scale Rating 1,260

Sweet birch (Betula lenta) is the hardest typical birch wood used for flooring, with a scoring of 1,470. This makes it harder than natural bamboo and sugar maple, yet not as hard as woods such as Red Pine, Rosewood or Tigerwood.

Sweet Birch Janka Scale Rating 1,470

*The Janka rating measures the resistance of a sample of wood to denting and wear. Click Here for more info.


Birch is unique in that it has a lighter sapwood (area toward the outside of the tree) and darker contrasting heartwood (wood found closer to the center of the tree). Boards that feature both of these styles offer an attractive combination of light shading with darker red and brown hues. This type of color variation truly makes birch unique among its fellow North American hardwoods. In fact, if/when you see “Red” birch, that’s just the heartwood of the Yellow birch.

The grain of a birch hardwood is medium figuring, straight, closed grain with even texture. There are times where you’ll see a curly grain on certain boards.

Flamed birch (or curly birch) produces a shimmer of waviness reminiscent of waves or flames in the wood. These waves are typically perpendicular to the grain, and can be found in other woods (such as maple). This design is not that common and is more characteristic of a specific tree, and not necessarily of the species.

There are many similarities in the appearance of maple and birch. Both share light sapwood and darker (reddish/brownish) heartwood. One specific differing quality is that this color variation is oftentimes more pronounced in birch. Another difference is that there are grades of birch predominantly made of heartwood, thus are referred to (and sold as) by a different name (red birch).


Birch is difficult to work with by using hand tools only, but works well with proper machinery. Boards with wild grain can cause grain tear out during machining operations. Birch handles sanding, nailing, and finishing well.

CLICK HERE to view all of our Birch hardwood flooring.

Click below for a detailed discription of the different species of hardwood.

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