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Birch bark

Birch bark

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Birch bark or birchbark is the bark
Bark
Bark is the outermost layers of stems and roots of woody plants. Plants with bark include trees, woody vines and shrubs. Bark refers to all the tissues outside of the vascular cambium and is a nontechnical term. It overlays the wood and consists of the inner bark and the outer bark. The inner...

 of several Eurasian and North American birch
Birch
Birch is a tree or shrub of the genus Betula , in the family Betulaceae, closely related to the beech/oak family, Fagaceae. The Betula genus contains 30–60 known taxa...

 trees of the genus Betula.

The strong and water-resistant cardboard-like bark can be easily cut, bent, and sewn, which made it a valuable building, crafting, and writing material
Writing material
Writing material refers to the materials that provide the surfaces on which humans use writing instruments to inscribe writings. The same materials can also be used for symbolic or representational drawings. Building material on which writings or drawings are produced are not included...

, since pre-historic
Prehistory
Prehistory is the span of time before recorded history. Prehistory can refer to the period of human existence before the availability of those written records with which recorded history begins. More broadly, it refers to all the time preceding human existence and the invention of writing...

 times. Even today birch bark remains a popular type of wood for various handicraft
Handicraft
Handicraft, more precisely expressed as artisanic handicraft, sometimes also called artisanry, is a type of work where useful and decorative devices are made completely by hand or by using only simple tools. It is a traditional main sector of craft. Usually the term is applied to traditional means...

s and arts.

Birch bark also contains substances of medicinal and chemical interest. Some of those products (such as betulin
Betulin
Betulin is an abundant naturally occurring triterpene. It is commonly isolated from the bark of birch trees and forms up to 30% of the dry weight of the extractive . The purpose of the compound in the bark is not known...

) also have fungicidal properties that help preserve bark artifacts, as well as food preserved in bark containers.

Collection and storage


Birch bark can be removed fairly easily from the trunk or branches, living or recently dead, by cutting a slit lengthwise through the bark and pulling or prying it away from the wood. The best time for collection is spring or early summer, as the bark is of better quality and most easily removed.

Removing the outer (light) layer of bark from the trunk of a living tree may not kill it, but probably weakens it and makes it more prone to infection
Infection
An infection is the colonization of a host organism by parasite species. Infecting parasites seek to use the host's resources to reproduce, often resulting in disease...

s. Removal of the inner (dark) layer, the phloem
Phloem
In vascular plants, phloem is the living tissue that carries organic nutrients , in particular, glucose, a sugar, to all parts of the plant where needed. In trees, the phloem is the innermost layer of the bark, hence the name, derived from the Greek word "bark"...

, kills the tree by preventing the flow of sap
Sap
Sap may refer to:* Plant sap, the fluid transported in xylem cells or phloem sieve tube elements of a plant* Sap , a village in the Dunajská Streda District of Slovakia...

 to the root
Root
In vascular plants, the root is the organ of a plant that typically lies below the surface of the soil. This is not always the case, however, since a root can also be aerial or aerating . Furthermore, a stem normally occurring below ground is not exceptional either...

s.

To prevent it from rolling up during storage, the bark should be spread open and kept pressed flat.

Working


Birch bark can be cut with a sharp knife
Knife
A knife is a cutting tool with an exposed cutting edge or blade, hand-held or otherwise, with or without a handle. Knives were used at least two-and-a-half million years ago, as evidenced by the Oldowan tools...

, and worked like cardboard. For sharp bending, the fold should be scored (scratched) first with a blunt stylus
Stylus
A stylus is a writing utensil, or a small tool for some other form of marking or shaping, for example in pottery. The word is also used for a computer accessory . It usually refers to a narrow elongated staff, similar to a modern ballpoint pen. Many styli are heavily curved to be held more easily...

.

Fresh bark can be worked as is; bark that has dried up (before or after collection) should be softened by steaming, by soaking in warm water, or over a fire.

Uses




Birch bark was a valuable construction material in any part of the world where birch trees were available. Containers like wrappings, bags, baskets, box
Box
Box describes a variety of containers and receptacles for permanent use as storage, or for temporary use often for transporting contents. The word derives from the Greek πύξος , "box, boxwood"....

es, or quiver
Quiver
A quiver is a container for arrows. Quivers have been traditionally made of leather, bark, wood, furs and other natural materials; modern quivers are often made of metal and plastic....

s were made by most societies well before pottery
Pottery
Pottery is the material from which the potteryware is made, of which major types include earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. The place where such wares are made is also called a pottery . Pottery also refers to the art or craft of the potter or the manufacture of pottery...

 was invented. Other uses include:
  • In various Asia
    Asia
    Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

    n countries (including Sibiria) birch bark was used to make storage boxes, paper, tinder, canoes, roof coverings, tents, and waterproof covering for composite bow
    Composite bow
    A composite bow is a bow made from horn, wood, and sinew laminated together. The horn is on the belly, facing the archer, and sinew on the back of a wooden core. Sinew and horn will store more energy than wood for the same length of bow...

    s, such as the Mongol bow
    Mongol bow
    The Mongol bow is a recurved composite bow renowned for its military effectiveness. The old Mongolian bows that were used during the times of Genghis Khan were smaller than the modern weapons used at most Naadam festivals today. Modern Mongolian bows are larger and have string bridges...

    , the Chinese bow, Korean bow, Turkish bow
    Turkish bow
    The Turkish bow is a recurved composite bow used in the Ottoman Empire.The construction was that of the classic Asiatic composite bow, with a wooden core , animal horn on the side facing the archer, and sinew on the back. Animal glue held it together...

    s, Assyrian bow, the Perso-Parthian bow....etc. It is still being used.More than one variety of birch is being used.
  • In North America
    North America
    North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

    , the native population used birch bark for canoe
    Canoe
    A canoe or Canadian canoe is a small narrow boat, typically human-powered, though it may also be powered by sails or small electric or gas motors. Canoes are usually pointed at both bow and stern and are normally open on top, but can be decked over A canoe (North American English) or Canadian...

    s, wigwam
    Wigwam
    A wigwam or wickiup is a domed room dwelling used by certain Native American tribes. The term wickiup is generally used to label these kinds of dwellings in American Southwest and West. Wigwam is usually applied to these structures in the American Northeast...

    s, scroll
    Birch bark scrolls
    Wiigwaasabak are birch bark scrolls, on which the Ojibwa people of North America wrote complex geometrical patterns and shapes. When used specifically for Midewiwin ceremonial use, these scrolls are called mide-wiigwaas...

    s, ritual art (birch bark biting), map
    Map
    A map is a visual representation of an area—a symbolic depiction highlighting relationships between elements of that space such as objects, regions, and themes....

    s (including the oldest maps of North America), torch
    Torch
    A torch is a fire source, usually a rod-shaped piece of wood with a rag soaked in pitch and/or some other flammable material wrapped around one end. Torches were often supported in sconces by brackets high up on walls, to throw light over corridors in stone structures such as castles or crypts...

    es, fan
    Fan (implement)
    A hand-held fan is an implement used to induce an airflow for the purpose of cooling or refreshing oneself. Any broad, flat surface waved back-and-forth will create a small airflow and therefore can be considered a rudimentary fan...

    s, musical instruments, clothing
    Clothing
    Clothing refers to any covering for the human body that is worn. The wearing of clothing is exclusively a human characteristic and is a feature of nearly all human societies...

    , and more.
  • In Scandinavia
    Scandinavia
    Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

     and Finland
    Finland
    Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

    , it was used as the substratum of sod roof
    Sod roof
    A sod roof or turf roof is a traditional Scandinavian type of green roof covered with sod on top of several layers of birch bark on gently sloping wooden roof boards. Until the late 19th century it was the most common roof on rural log houses in large parts of Scandinavia...

    s and birch-bark roof
    Birch-bark roof
    A birch-bark roof is a roof construction traditional in Finland for farmhouses and farm buildings built from logs. The birch-bark roof was the prevailing roof type in rural Finland up until the 1860s, when it was replaced by the use of other materials such as metal sheeting and later roofing felt...

    s, for making boxes, cask
    CASK
    Peripheral plasma membrane protein CASK is a protein that in humans is encoded by the CASK gene. This gene is also known by several other names: CMG 2 , calcium/calmodulin-dependent serine protein kinase 3 and membrane-associated guanylate kinase 2.-Genomics:This gene is located on the short arm of...

    s and bucket
    Bucket
    A bucket, also called a pail, is typically a watertight, vertical cylinder or truncated cone, with an open top and a flat bottom, usually attached to a semicircular carrying handle called the bail. A pail can have an open top or can have a lid....

    s, fishing
    Fishing
    Fishing is the activity of trying to catch wild fish. Fish are normally caught in the wild. Techniques for catching fish include hand gathering, spearing, netting, angling and trapping....

     implements, and shoe
    Shoe
    A shoe is an item of footwear intended to protect and comfort the human foot while doing various activities. Shoes are also used as an item of decoration. The design of shoes has varied enormously through time and from culture to culture, with appearance originally being tied to function...

    s (as used by the Egtved Girl
    Egtved Girl
    The Egtved Girl was a Nordic Bronze Age girl whose well-preserved remains were found at Egtved , Denmark in 1921. Aged 16–18 at death, she was slim, 160 cm tall , had short, blonde hair and well-trimmed nails. Her burial has been dated by dendrochronology to 1370 BCE...

    ), etc..
  • In Russia
    Russia
    Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

    , many birch bark document
    Birch bark document
    A birch bark document is a document written on pieces of birch bark. Such documents existed in several cultures. For instance, some Gandharan Buddhist texts have been found written on birch bark and preserved in clay jars....

    s have survived from the Middle Ages
    Middle Ages
    The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

    .
  • In the India
    India
    India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

    n civilization birch-bark, along with dried palm leaves
    Palm leaf manuscript
    Palm leaf manuscripts are manuscripts made out of dried palm leaves. They served as the paper of the ancient world in parts of Asia as far back as the fifteenth century BCE. and possibly much earlier. They were used to record actual and mythical narratives in South Asia and in South East Asia...

    , replaced parchment
    Parchment
    Parchment is a thin material made from calfskin, sheepskin or goatskin, often split. Its most common use was as a material for writing on, for documents, notes, or the pages of a book, codex or manuscript. It is distinct from leather in that parchment is limed but not tanned; therefore, it is very...

     as the primary writing medium. The oldest known Buddhist manuscripts (some of the Gandharan Buddhist Texts
    Gandharan Buddhist Texts
    The Gandhāran Buddhist Texts are the oldest Buddhist manuscripts yet discovered, dating from about the 1st century CE. They are written in Gāndhārī, and are possibly the oldest extant Indic texts altogether. They were sold to European and Japanese institutions and individuals, and are currently...

    ), from Afghanistan
    Afghanistan
    Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

    , were written on birch bark.


Birch bark also makes an outstanding tinder
Tinder
Tinder is easily combustible material used to ignite fires by rudimentary methods. A small fire consisting of tinder is then used to ignite kindling. Anything that can be ignited by a match can be considered tinder; or by more rigorous definition, anything that begins to glow under a shower of...

, as the inner layers will stay dry even through heavy rainstorms. To render birch bark useless as tinder, it must be soaked for an extended period of time.

See also

  • Mazinibaganjigan
    Mazinibaganjigan
    Mazinibaganjigan is an ancient folk art made by the Ojibwe , Cree and other Algonquian peoples who use birch bark, by biting down on small pieces of birch bark to form intricate designs. It is also known as mazinashkwemaganjigan and ozhibaganjigan...

     (Ojibwa
    Ojibwa
    The Ojibwe or Chippewa are among the largest groups of Native Americans–First Nations north of Mexico. They are divided between Canada and the United States. In Canada, they are the third-largest population among First Nations, surpassed only by Cree and Inuit...

     birch bark decorative designs)
  • Wiigwaasabak (Ojibwa birch bark scrolls)
  • "Wiigwaas" entry in Wiktionary

External links