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A Birch at an unexpected height

Updated: Sep 5, 2021

Earlier we wrote about the largest tree and the longest roots. Now we have found another record: the 'highest' Birch in Europe. In this case, by height we mean the highest location.


Anyone who reads the literature will find that the tree line in the Alps is around 1800 – 2100 meters. The low temperature and snow cover largely define the boundary, which means that the highest-growing trees can be found on the warmer southern slopes. In Tibet, closer to the equator, the highest tree line in the world is at 4900 meters above sea level [1]. Individual trees are found even higher. For example, the Polylepis: a stem-forming member of the rose family without memorable flowers, which takes root even above 5000 meters in the Andes.


In a warming climate, trees are starting to survive further north and higher in the mountains. This can already be seen in the Alps. In just 12 years, the forest cover in the Swiss Alps increased by 5% between 1651 and 2414 meters. 90% of this was due to growth around the old tree line and 10% to new growth above the old tree line. Strikingly, the observed growth on and above the tree line could also largely be attributed to the decreased number of cows [2].


The altitude records in Switzerland are kept in the National Forest Inventory [3]. At the top, at an altitude of 3020 meters, is a juniper (Juniperu communis). You will not be able to get much jevever (the Dutch version of Gin) from it, because the tree measures only 45 cm. The top of the list is dominated by conifers, including Pinus, Larix and Picea. However, if we look at the deciduous trees, we see that the Birch takes the cake. The highest recorded birch is a 10 cm seedling at a height of 2860 meters. Of course, this sapling cannot be called a real 'tree' yet, but still!

Over the top!

In the 2-5 meter category, the highest birch is at 2147 meters, measured in 2019 (see above) [4]. That record is now off the books, because when I made a mountain hike through the 'Lost Valley of Zermatt' in August 2021, I was surprised to come across a beautiful healthy birch of about four meters, way above the tree line! The past few warm summers will have given it the opportunity to grow quickly. Will this strong birch survive here?

If you are ever near the Matterhorn, make sure to take a photo. You can find this special tree here. As soon as the report of this birch has been verified by the NFI and it has been added to the list, we will let you know here!

If you want to see a pioneer grow up yourself, order one of our baby birches here, or give this symbol of new beginnings and personal growth as a beautiful gift. After this meeting at an unexpected height, this symbolism has in become even more clear for us.

Learn more

There is much more interesting to read about tree lines and climate zones. In our opinion, a good start is the vegetation distribution map from The Physical Atlas from 1848 [5].

[5] "Distribution of Plants in a Perpendicular Direction in the Torrid, the Temperate, and the Frigid Zones" published 1850 in "The Physical Atlas of Natural Phenomena: Reduced from the Edition in Imperial Folio for the Use of Colleges, Academies and Families", edition of the 1848 "The Physical Atlas" by Alexander Keith Johnston (1804–1871).

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