Block of the Week: Birch Wood
Barking up the right tree
What's your favourite Minecraft tree? Perhaps it's the tall, noble spruce. Maybe it's the relaxed, sunkissed acacia. Or is it the classic, apple-growing oak? For me, it's hard to beat out the beauty of a simple, elegant birch. Which also happens to be our Block of the Week. WHAT AN INSANE COINCIDENCE.
Birch wood is straightforward to get a hold of in most common biomes, and the tree's distinctive white bark is easy to spot from a distance. It's found in forests, hills, plains and there are even special birch forests that contain nothing but birch trees. You probably knew that already. What you might not know, however, is that there is a rare biome called "birch forest M", in which extremely tall birch trees grow. If you find one of those, you can consider yourself lucky! Here's what they look like:
Birch trees differ from their woody cousins like oak and pine by only coming in one shape. While oak trees occasionally sprout branches and grow to huge sizes, birch tends to grow to a more predictable size, just five to seven blocks tall. This makes it especially suitable for indoor gardens. Each tree has fifty to sixty leaf blocks that you'll need shears to collect if, for some reason, you want to collect a lot of leaves.
Minecraft's birch trees were added to the game in January 2011 in version Beta 1.2, at the same time as sugar cane, squid and lapis lazuli. They were inspired by the birch trees that grow all over the place in Sweden, where Minecraft is made. But real-world birch isn't only found in Sweden - it grows all over Earth's northern hemisphere, from the shores of Greenland to southern Japan.
Birch's tolerance for cold lets it survive in very snowy places, and its hard, light-coloured wood is popular for making furniture. In fact, it's quite probable that you've got some birch in your house right now. It smells good, too. So good in fact, that you can buy birch-scented soaps and shampoos and birch sap is quite a popular drink in the northernmost parts of Europe and Siberia. Yum!
Birch bark is also used as an ingredient in some medicines, and it can even be fashioned into a cast for a broken arm in survival situations. But the tree has a dark side, especially if you're prone to hayfever. Birch's pollen is probably the most common cause of tree pollen allergies, making life rubbish for about one in five hayfever sufferers every year.
Luckily, there are no allergies in Minecraft (until someone mods them in, anyway). So you can set up home in a birch forest without risk of the sniffles, and make the most of our light-coloured Block of the Week. Treemendous!