The Russian birch is deliciously beautiful. Slender, elegant, mournful: whatever the mood of the Russian skies, the birch has something of the Russian soul. "Charming, modest birches, I love them better than any other trees," says Vershinin in Chekhov's The Three Sisters. The birch features in the work of so many Russian artists. For Isaak Levitan, a good friend of Chekhov, the birch is slight, lyrical, elvene; birches feature in a score of his paintings. For other Russian landscape artists, the playful birch with its pink tinged bark offsets the gravitas of the country's great tracts of dark coniferous forest.