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222 × 144 × 20 mm
224 pages
115 illustrations, 91 in colour
12 Nov 2018

Birch Anna Lewington

Elegant and beautiful, rich in history and supremely useful, birches have played an extraordinary yet largely unrecognized part in shaping both our natural environment and the material culture and beliefs of millions of people around the world.

For thousands of years they have given people of the northern forests and beyond raw materials in the form of leaves, twigs, branches and bark, as well as wood and sap, not simply to survive but to flourish and express their identity in practical and spiritual ways. Tough, waterproof and flexible, birch bark has been used for everything from basketry and clothing to housing and transport, musical instruments and medicines, as well as a means to communicate and record sacred beliefs: some of our most ancient Buddhist texts and other historic documents are written on birch bark. Birches have not only shaped regional cultures – creating, for example, the Native American wigwam and the birch bark canoe – but continue to supply raw materials of global economic importance today.

Birch explores the multiple uses of these versatile trees as well as the ancient beliefs and folklore with which they are associated. Richly illustrated, this book presents a fascinating overview of their cultural and ecological significance, from botany to literature and art, as Anna Lewington looks both at the history of birches and what the future may hold in store for them.

‘[Birch’s] indomitable will for survival, as well as the tree’s usability as a material, and influence on global culture and traditions is thoroughly documented in Birch . . . There are interesting illustrations throughout . . . Intriguing facts form the basis of the book . . . whether you’re a fan of the birch tree or not there is a wealth of information to be gleaned from reading Birch.’ — Gardens Illustrated

‘This delightful book of facts and observations by Anna Lewington focuses in depth on birch through historical, sociological and ecological elements. Across six chapters it reflects on the breadth and spread of the birch tree, covering first the species itself then its health-giving, practical, sacred and aesthetic uses before looking to the future . . . If you want some wonderful bedtime reading or are looking for a gift for anyone with even a passing interest in trees, this book, full of wonderful facts and insights into an important and beautiful genus of tree, will not disappoint.’ — Scottish Forestry Journal

‘To give away more of the book’s ‘secrets’ would be a shame – and spoil the many surprises that are in store for the phytocurious who read this great little book . . . Anna Lewington’s Birch is a brilliant addition to the publisher’s Botanical series, and to the expanding library of plants–and–people literature. I have no hesitation in recommending it to everybody, both to those who need to know about plants, and to those – like this reviewer – who thought they already did.’ — Botany One

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Anna Lewington is an ethnobotanist and writer, specializing in the importance of plants to people. Her previous publications include Plants For People (2003) and Ancient Trees: Trees that Live for a Thousand Years (2012). She lives in Dorset.


1 The Natural History of Birches
2 Tree of Well-Being
3 Practical Birch: Materials for Life
4 Sacred Birch: Folklore and Tradition
5 The Lady of the Woods: Images of Birch
6 The Future of Birch

Further Reading
Associations and Websites
Photo Acknowledgements