This shrub is one of those which, in addition to the dwarf birch B. nana, make up the sub-genus of dwarf birches. However, it grows larger than B. nana, to about 2 metres. The bark is greyish-white and the branches red-brown. The leaves are small and more oval than in B. nana. The catkins are fairly thick and erect, the females becoming fuzzy seed catkins after pollination.
This species is native to central and eastern Europe but also grows in Siberia and Mongolia. In Europe it is considered to be an Ice Age relict. In the wild it forms thickets along rivers, the nearest being found in the Baltic states.
B. fruticosa is rarely grown in Finland, perhaps because to many people there are already enough birches with the native species, and the ambition is to grow something like the tender Antarctic beech (Nothofagus antarctica). This is, in fact, the first species that comes to mind at first sight of the B. fruticosa shrubs growing by the Mustila pool, with their warty branches and small gingerbread leaves.