The silver birch grows to between 15 and 20 metres tall. The crown is narrowly conical to ovoid. The bark is characteristically smooth and white and develops dark splotches with age and peels off in papery strips. Its branches are graceful and pendulous. The leaves are hairy at first, glossy bright green in colour, turning golden-yellow in autumn. It produces drooping catkins up to 3 centimetres in length, as well as upright flowers.
The tree is native to Europe and Asia Minor. In some parts of Northern Europe the sap of the silver birch tree was once brewed into an alcoholic drink.