The paper birch is the North American equivalent of the Finnish downy birch (B. pubescens), growing in both mono-specific and mixed forests up to the timberline in the north. Though closely resembling the downy birch in appearance, it is of less refined habit, with larger and more oval leaves. The name comes from the pale bark which exfoliates in papery sheets and rolls up like papyrus scrolls. The shade of the bark varies depending on origin, and those favoured for planting have white, unblemished bark.
In Finland the species is hardy at least as far north as Oulu and is occasionally found in old parks. There seems to be some variation in hardiness, just as in habit and shade of bark, again depending on provenance.
The Native Americans used paper birch in many ways, including for making canoes from the water-proof bark.