River birch holiday branch

Old tradition that predates the Christmas tree includes hanging and honoring a holiday branch. We began to honor this old custom from the need to save room on the floor. Soon we developed an appreciation of looking up into lights and decorations, and realized this as a way we could enjoy plants we love as well as make better use of material cut from our own gardens. It also seemed like fun to honor a different species each year.

We've hung white pine, red oak, yew, beech and apple so far. (Click to see them.)

This year a river birch (Betula nigra) presented itself as our Christmas branch.

This year a river birch (Betula nigra) presented itself as our Christmas branch.

Healthy and still young at 30 years, it had been placed by someone misapprised of its potential (70' or more) and long term appearance. (After 15 years or so, the lower trunk bark is no longer peeling and cinnamon cream; only younger wood way up high still has that glow.)

A 25' limb from the top comes home. Janet had to bundle the twig end and bend it back on itself so it wouldn't drag behind.

A 25' limb from the top comes home. Janet had to bundle the twig end and bend it back on itself so it wouldn't drag behind.

The butt end gets strung up to its hook first, then the twig end. At first the limb dangles from strong cord, then each point gets hitched a bit higher until it's close enough to the ceiling to be snugged in place with wire.

The butt end gets strung up to its hook first, then the twig end. At first the limb dangles from strong cord, then each point gets hitched a bit higher until it's close enough to the ceiling to be snugged in place with wire.

The twig end remains bundled during the raising. (Blue arrow.) The limb is relatively bare along half its length, very twiggy at the end. Eventually, one branch from the twig end will come off and be positioned as if it grew from lower. (Green arrows.)

The twig end remains bundled during the raising. (Blue arrow.) The limb is relatively bare along half its length, very twiggy at the end. Eventually, one branch from the twig end will come off and be positioned as if it grew from lower. (Green arrows.)

One of the things we've learned in hanging branches this way is that the spread of branches is the result of living attachments and dynamic force in the tree. When simply hung, the branch wants to let its heftiest side limbs dangle vertically. (It hangs as it wishes, inset photo.) We must pivot the limb (arrow)and attach it at three or more points to spread it horizontally.

One of the things we've learned in hanging branches this way is that the spread of branches is the result of living attachments and dynamic force in the tree. When simply hung, the branch wants to let its heftiest side limbs dangle vertically. (It hangs as it wishes, inset photo.) We must pivot the limb (arrow)and attach it at three or more points to spread it horizontally.

Once up, with twig end unbundled, we prune for less clutter.

Once up, with twig end unbundled, we prune for less clutter.

Last year's branch (an apple, in red and green for love and fertility) comes down just before this year's goes up. We cut that well seasoned wood for kindling for friends' fires. Tradition as old as the hanging of a holiday branch as it that it's good luck to start the new year's fire from a bit of the old Yule log.

Then we light it and decorate. This year white lights and gold bangles are wishes for hope and prosperity.

Then we light it and decorate. This year white lights and gold bangles are wishes for hope and prosperity.

ight, the apple branch that spanned our living room bundled neatly into just a few bunches of fragrant burning dry kindling.

ight, the apple branch that spanned our living room bundled neatly into just a few bunches of fragrant burning dry kindling.