The Colors and Textures of Tree Bark Will Enhance Your Winter Garden

The texture of tree bark becomes an important element in winter when the shedding of leaves exposes trunks and branches. The variety of colors and textures is fascinating. The bark’s texture may change as the tree matures. The bark of a black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), for instance, is quite smooth when young, becoming deeply furrowed as it ages. Conversely, a paperbark maple (Acer griseum) will exhibit its flaking, exfoliating characteristics when very young. One of our favorites in the South is crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) with bark that peels to reveal smooth pinkish or grayish bark beneath. Some trees have colored bark, like the famous white bark of the canoe or paper birch (Betula papyrifera), or the dark red stems of a red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea). Imagine the beauty of a hedge or mass of red-osier dogwood surrounded by snow! Site a tree, such as a river birch (Betula nigra) with its flaking bark, where you can easily admire it as you pass it on a walkway or look out a window.

Acer buergerianum, trident maple—smooth gray bark, fissures and splits with age

Acer buergerianum, trident maple

Acer griseum, paperbark maple—exfoliating reddish bark, even on young trees

Acer griseum, paperbark maple

Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood' Japanese maple, interesting dappled grey effect

Acer palmatum Bloodgood

Acer palmatum ‘Nishiki gawa,’ Japanese pinebark maple--has rough-textured bark resembling pine bark. A good choice for a small specimen tree or bonsai.

Acer palmatum Nishiki gawa

Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku,’ coral bark Japanese maple—coral color on young shoots

Acer palmatum Sango Kaku

Aesculus californica, California buckeye—smooth silver-gray

Aesculus hippocastanum, common horsechestnut—gray to brown, exfoliates with age

Amelanchier arborea, serviceberry—smooth and grey when young, becoming furrowed with age

Arbutus menziesii, Pacific madrone—grayish brown and splits into longitudinal fissures

Betula lenta, sweet birch—shiny dark reddish brown becoming scaly with age

Betula nigra, river birch—peeling, exfoliating bark

Betula nigra, river birch

Betula papyrifera, paper birch—famous white bark that peels in thin horizontal strips revealing reddish inner bark. Indians used to make canoes and shelter. Best in Northern zones.

Betula papyrifera, paper birch

Betula pendula, European weeping birch—whitish when young, becoming mostly dark with age

Carpinus betulus, European hornbeam-- smooth, bluish gray; hard, muscular fluted trunk

Cercis canadensis, Eastern redbud—dark, blackish bark stands out in winter, good foil for the pink buds which pop out directly from the branches. Younger bark looks much smoother and develops this sort of criss-cross pattern with age.

Cercis canadensis, redbud

Cercidiphyllum japonicum, katsuratree—the bark becomes shaggy with age on a tree that is beautiful in all seasons. Outstanding specimen tree.

Cercidiphyllum japonicum, katsuratree

Chionanthus retusus, Chinese fringetree--multiple trunks develop with bark in shades of gray, brown and tan may be furrowed or exhibit exfoliating characteristics.

Cladrastis kentukea, American yellowwood--smooth gray bark with lighter patches giving a striped effect. Similar to American beech.

Cladrastis kentukea, American yellowwood

Cornus alba, Tatarian dogwood—red twigs in winter

Cornus florida, flowering dogwood—rough, gray bark in small blocks, a good identification feature

Cornus florida, flowering dogwood bark

Cornus kousa, Kousa dogwood--smooth gray bark exfoliates to show tan patches, very different from Cornus florida

Cornus kousa bark

Cornus officinalis, Japanese Cornel dogwood—interesting showy bark with gray, brown and orangey patches

Cornus officinalis bark

Cornus sericea, redosier dogwood—red twigs in winter. Cornus sericea ‘Lutea’, yellow twig dogwood—has yellow twigs in winter.

Cornus sericea bark

Cornus wilsoniana, Wilson's dogwood--unusual ghostly patchy white and gray bark. Would be very interesting to use for a white garden in the moonlight

Cornus wilsoniana bark

Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’, European filbert, “Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick”—bark is smooth, brown, but stems are fantastically twisted and corkscrewed making for good winter interest

Corylus avellana bark

Crataegus marshallii, parsley hawthorn--a small native tree of the southeastern U.S. with patchy, scaly bark that is quite ornamental.

Crataegus marshallii, parsley hawthorn bark

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