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Karelian birch is a bush or a small tree of up to 10 meters high. It is one of the subspecies of the European white birch and it is really hard to distinguish one from another at a glance. In terms of appearance, the major distinguishing feature of Karelian birch is that its stem has some bulges and knaggy wood. Besides, quite often it is characterized by abnormal form of stem and branches. It is usually smaller than European white birch and has thin branches.
For the first time Karelian birch was mentioned in literature in XVIII century as a unique tree of northern forests. In more details it was described in 1857 in the works of the Russian botanist, Karl Merklin. Apparently, the name of the tree stems from the region where it was originally found and used by local craftsmen.
Nowadays geographical range of Karelian birch includes the north-west of Russia, Baltic States, Nordic countries, Belarus and Ukraine. Sometimes it can be found in the Southern Carpathians, Poland and Germany. It is interesting that Karelian birches do not create forests. The trees grow separately or in small groups.
Within its range Karelian birch is characterized by a variety of forms. In terms of the high of the tree it can be divided into standard-, short-stemmed and bush like trees. As regards the bark of the stem, Karelian birch can be figured and ribbed. This variety of forms proves variability and genetic flexibility of this type of birches. It is likely to adjust to any external conditions.
The thing that made Karelian birch so valuable and world-known is its unique veiny wood. In the context of wood grain and solidity it can be compared with marble. But it is absolutely beyond compare in terms of its beauty. In a word, the wood of Karelian birch has ripple texture with attractive dark infusions of different forms, shiny curls, streaks and lines and curving annual rings. It looks like this design was carefully pyrographed by Karelian nature and the design of each tree is unique.
Due to its highly decorative wood Karelian birch has been widely applied for crafting homeware, vessels and so on since the ancient times. Also it is perfectly suitable for veneer. In the middle of the XIX century furniture made of Karelian birch became a symbol of Russian Empire epoch. Its wood was used for the decoration of monarchic chambers and magnates’ palaces. Therefore, Karelian birch was called Royal tree. Nowadays different Karelian birch’s items are exhibited in museums in St. Petersburg and Moscow, as well as in Sweden, Finland and Germany.
Thus, Karelian birch has become world-known thanks to its unique texture with curious tracery and rich golden shade of the wood. Nowadays it is still widely applied for decoration and creating different souvenirs, jewelry, furniture, musical instruments and so on. Although it is quite hard to manufacture its wood, Masur birch is of high value due to its beauty and unique properties. After polishing it gets pearly gloss and is highly suitable for veneer and creating different covetable items. Some brand-new luxury car models (like Mercedes-Benz S600) have gorgeous Karelian birch wood trim. Nacre wood of the tree perfectly harmonizes with beautifully crafted leather.
But it should be mentioned that only about 60% of Karelian birches have this unique masur wood. Although the tree propagates by seeds, it is hard for posterity to preserve valuable texture of the wood. Besides, it is possible to find out whether a nursery plant has veiny wood or not only after 6-10 years. Moreover, only 10-25% of the stem can be used as a source of veiny wood since its top is not likely to have this attractive marble design. In a word, the resources of the Karelian birch wood are limited. This fact makes this tree even more valuable.
Apart from its unique texture with creative and sophisticated design, Karelian birch is known for the solidity and some other physical properties of its wood. Karelian birch wood is resistant to such harmful external influence as putrefaction, corrosion and shrinkage. Therefore, furniture and other items made of Karelian birch are considered to be solid and almost everlasting.
Moreover, some botanists and other experts claim that Karelian birches have certain antibacterial properties and are able to combat fungi and other microorganisms. Consequently, the wood and items made of it have the same positive qualities.
All the unique characteristics and high value of the wood led to large-scale illegal felling of Karelian birch during the XX century. Karelian birch was on the verge of extinction and authorities were forced to take urgent measures to preserve and restore the resources of this valuable tree. Artificial breeding of Karelian birch started in the 1930s. Then tough felling regulations were introduced in the Republic of Karelia. Several nature reserves of Karelian birch were created. Now scientists are trying to apply advanced biotechnologies to increase its population.
Due to tightly controlled felling and the fact that Karelian birch’s wood can only be harvested in mid-winter when the ground is frozen, this tree is really precious. It’s worth mentioning that it is the only wood on the market that is sold in kilos not in cubic meters. The price on Karelian birch and items made of it is higher than the price on other types of deciduous and even some exotic trees.