After 7 months of work during the pandemic, which has felt like years, I have finally completed my Virginia Round Leaf Birch painting! Just the act of setting up my palette and removing the conditioner from my brushes is usually sufficient to gather my focus and get to work. Unfortunately, that has not been the case for the last 6 months. The regular consumption of alarming news has left me quite distracted. I subscribed to a meditation app to help improve my mental state, as my forest journeys have been curtailed. Normally, going for a good long walk in the woods can clear my thoughts. I do not have any large forests nearby, so I have been making do with the trees on my property, a local park and my fairly pathetic vegetable garden.
For a few lovely days, I listened to The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben while I was painting. I highly recommend this book. No matter how many books you read about trees, there is always something new and fascinating to learn.
The Virginia Round Leaf Birch was the first tree protected by the Endangered Species Act. It was originally discovered in Smyth County in southwest Virginia. It may be the rarest native U.S. tree species still existing in the wild. They were first discovered in the early 1900’s but seemed to disappear from that location. In 1975 a few dozen trees were found about a mile away from the original location.
Once they were rediscovered, several organizations worked to preserve the species. Seeds were given to Arboreta and University researchers, and the trees were planted in multiple locations.
As a result, it is now possible for you to grow this plant on your own property.
According to the US Forest Services website, there are a number of reasons why the Virginia Round Leaf Birch is still threatened in spite of conservation efforts since 1978.
Threats include “collection for scientific purposes, limited habitat for seedlings (small forest openings with exposed mineral soil), periodic flooding and droughty soils, vandalism, road and transmission line maintenance and other human activities, herbivory, long distances between pollen sources, low seed viability, and a breeding system that permits heavy gene exchange with sweet birch.”
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