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Stone Birch: Betula ermanii
Stone Birch: Betula ermanii
Stone Birch: Betula ermanii
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Stone Birch: Betula ermanii

Автор Valery Bykasov

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Stone birch (Betula ermanii) is being considered from the ecologist's point of view. The phenomenological characteristic of the Kamchatka stone birch forests is presented. Some aspects of the wood, bark, sap, foliage, and buds' usage in the commodity production, folk medicine and handicraft industry are unveiled. The role and the importance of the stone birch woods in the preservation of primary-natural structure of landscapes and ecosystems of the peninsula are underlined. Photos illustrate the distinctive nature of Kamchatka.
Дата выпуска21 мар. 2017 г.
Stone Birch: Betula ermanii
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    Stone Birch - Valery Bykasov


    The book, presented to the readers, is a result of many years of observations by the author as well as a generalization of the numerous publications on the plant world of the Kamchatka Peninsula.

    The major part of this book is a description of the stone birch distribution and peculiarities (morphologic, ecologic, and forest-forming). In addition, there are outline of the various authors’ divisions of the stone birch forest formations into more subdivided allotments, the brief botanic-geographic and eco-topological connection of stone birch forests to the locality. The phenology of the stone birch forests growing in various conditions is given in detailed descriptions.

    ■ 1 Stone birch

    Using quite a bit of detail, the author touches on the applicable, economical and medicinal aspects of stone birch usage (wood, sap, bark, parasite fungus chaga, etc.). At the same time, he rightly notices that the most important aspects of the Kamchatka stone birch forests are their soil-protecting and water-protecting roles, which lead to the great regulation of flood and thermal conditions of the Kamchatka rivers. Therefore, these components provide the highest natural productivity of the Kamchatka salmon, which in turn results in the highest economic impact that, per se, surpasses all other types of usage of the stone birch forests of the peninsula.

    The book is written in good literary language, although the richness as it applies to scientific terms would rather suit a scientific monograph than a popular science book.

    In general, the present work is a valuable aid for environmental protection specialists and can be useful for local historians, educators, tourists and nature lovers. For those reasons, the publishing of this book should be considered very relevant.

    Valentin Yakubov,

    senior researcher at the Higher Plants Lab,

    Biology-Soil Institute, FEB RAS


    This book was born in a somewhat gradual and spontaneous manner. Having wandered about for over five dozen years up hills and down into the dale, I would once in a while discover something interesting. And when it became possible, I started to put some of what I saw on film. That is how some of my impressions and films had appeared, including some about our Kamchatka stone birch. And when I, as they say, matured, I tried to share my impressions in a couple of small articles in [Russian] magazines Yuniy naturalist (Young Naturalist) and Priroda i chelovek (Nature and Human), and of course, not placing any great significance of those unpretentious sketches.

    But as the time went by, it became obvious that the purely scientific works about the stone birch are not sufficient to satisfy the interests of the inquisitive. Not only because such works would be published in small runs to eventually disappear out of sight; but also because the majority of the inquisitive (like the same tourists) is interested rather in illustrated popular than the scientific edition.

    ■ 2 Stone birch

    This is why I decided to fill this space, having composed, on the basis of my own observations and facts from the literature, a small educational book filled with my own pictures. Unfortunately, some of the older pictures, due to their age, are no longer in good condition for publication, and its not always possible to redo the older images.

    Therefore, I have tried to write the book for people like myself – quite inquisitive but not very knowledgeable about the topic. I will be very pleased if anyone finds something interesting and useful in it. One – an unknown fact. Two – and unexpected image. Three – something of his or her own impression. And what has come out of this all is not for me to judge.

    Best wishes to all my readers.

    First Impressions

    What an amazing tree the birch is...amazing because since olden times it has been perceived as a symbol of maidenly charm and motherly tenderness. And it is not only our mere Russian feelings about this. Hundreds years ago a foreign traveller wrote those words about Russia, "...and there grows a wonderful tree, with a skin white and delicate like maiden’s", and in Yakutian fairytales (olonkho), the birch also symbolizes a girl, a bride, a woman.

    ■ 3 Powerful armor

    Therefore, what’s more striking is the contrast made by the Kamchatka stone birch with its sturdy (up to 60-70 cm in diameter and greater) trunk (■ 4), covered with a thick armor of rind (■ 3). So striking that it should not be compared to a delicate maiden dressed in white, but to a heavily-armored knight (■ 6). This is especially since the trunks (bodies) of those trees often cover themselves with a huge (up to 1.5 meters or more in diameter) shield of the burl tumour (■ 5).

    ■ 4 Stone birch

    And isn’t it amazing that there is still no definitive answer to the question, ‘How did this tree gain its second name – stone?’ It is either because its newly-cut trunks are almost completely submerged in water (sinking like a stone) due to the exceptional wood density or because it often grows on bare rocky mountain slopes. Therefore, "The Okhotsk seaboard dwellers call that birch ‘stone’, because I saw it covering the most rocky places, the steepest rocks along the entire Okhotsk sea coast" (Middendorf, 2004, p. 532). Or it may be because the bark of the adult trees has (Goleva, 1993) distinctive grey, stony-like color. It could quite possibly be due to of all these reasons. However, the point is not its name, but the very stone birch itself.

    ■ 5 Burl «shield»

    And it must be said, that there has been plenty written about the stone birch (Turkov, Shamshin, 1963; Shamshin, 1999; Shemberg, 1986). However, this tree, existing together with salmon, bears, volcanoes and geysers – a distinctive token of the peninsula, has so many unusual properties that repetition of its qualities is hardly excessive.

    ■ 6 «Bogatyr»

    Distribution, Status, Ecology

    Thus, we have the Kamchatka birch... the stone birch... the Erman’s birch. This tree first became known to the Europeans even before Russian Cossacks reached the Lamut (Okhotsk) Sea in the early decades of the 17th century, when their squadrons, searching for sable, entered the Barguzin Mountains and first encountered this tree. However its first scientific descriptions were carried out by S. P. Krasheninnikov and G. W. Steller only over a hundred years later – during the second half of the 18th century.

    ■ 7 Inosculation is not unusual

    Usually stone birch forests can be found in regions with a cold and humid oceanic climate, which the well-known Far East geo-botanist V. N. Vasilyev (1942) ascribed to the tertiary boreal Far East forest region. And, according to him, the distinctive feature of the growth of this independent (and quite vast) Holarctic region during the quaternary glaciations was the appearance of such ecdemic forest formations such as white birch, aspen and larch forests, which significantly put pressure on the primary stone birch forests.

    Nevertheless, in this struggle for room the stone birch survived. Presently, its various subtypes grow over a vast territory of East Siberia from the Timpton and Aldan riverheads in the north to the northeastern provinces of China, northern parts of Korea and Hokkaido Island in the south (Yelagin, 1963). They also appear in the Angara, Muya and Barguzina River Basins in the west to the southern spurs of the Koryak Plateau and the Kamchatka Peninsula in the east (Turkov, Shamshin, 1963).

    ■ 8 Coastal form

    The altitudinal distribution of the stone birches varies over quite a wide range. Thus, in the coastal regions of the North Priokhotie and East Kamchatka the birches often grow right on the coastline (■ 8). At the same time in the regions with a continental climate the stone birch forests form a separate upper belt of the Silva, starting with a true altitude of about 1800 m in the northeastern region of China to 200-500 m in the mountainous areas of Central Kamchatka.

    By the way, it must be noted that such a wide amplitude distribution by altitude of the stone birch shows its adherence to its habitat, which are characterized by rather severe

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