Birch trees are deciduous and characterized by pale bark and long petiolate acuminate leaves. They can reach a height of 15-30 m. The species most widespread is silver birch, or Betula pendula, (young branches hairless, leaves very long and fruits surrounded by a thick shell) that grows in poor, sandy or pebbly acidic soils. Downy birch, or Betula pubescens (young branches hairy, and leaves, stalks and fruit shell are smaller), develops mainly on marshy or boggy soil.
Birch trees are remarkably hardy: they can withstand harsh environmental conditions, such as sudden and prolonged frosts and long periods of draught. Birch is common in the Picetum, Fagetum and Castanetum phytoclimatic areas, but can also be found at higher or lower altitudes. They are light-loving pioneer plants that will rapidly colonize open grounds following a fire or clearings. They can form pure woods, stands or grow as single isolated plants.
Birch trees are cultivated as ornamental plants for the elegance of their leaves and white bark covered with black specks. In forestry they are used to consolidate landslides and scree or for reforestation of pastures and copses. The hydroalcoholic extract of birch is used as diuretic, urinary antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and for lymphatic drainage. Birch oil is used as a remedy against some skin diseases.