When winter winds strip off the leaves of trees, identifying the species takes on a completely new level of difficulty. Naked buds supply one clue, but they’re typically high in the tree and hard to see. That leaves the bark. The identification of tree species from bark is hard and a skill learned more from experience than study. However, with some practice, it can become a fun winter hobby. Always search for mature bark to use in identification. Juvenile bark on new development may look completely different than when it is mature.
Textures and Patterns
Tree bark grows in a surprising array of colors and textures, and this also makes some species quite familiar. Trees with smooth, light-colored bark, like the American beech (Fagus grandifolia, hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9), stand out in a forest setting. Some trees have bark with deep vertical furrows, such as the American elm (Ulmus americana), which can also be hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9, or deep furrows in a checkerboard pattern, such as the frequent persimmon (Diospyrus virginiana), hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9. Trees with shaggy or papery bark comprise the sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9; river birch (Betula nigra), hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9; longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), hardy in USDA zones 8 through 10; and shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8. Trees with moderate grooving, such as southern red oaks (Quercus falcata), hardy in USDA zones 6 through 9, and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 10, are harder to identify.
Colors and Layers
Bark color can vary greatly due to environmental variables, but it can also be used as an identification program. As an instance, river birches generally have light to almost whitish bark. The very best, gray layer of sycamore bark often flakes off to reveal white under that’s striking and striking from a distance. Southern red oaks usually have dark gray bark, whilst persimmon bark can be almost black.
Markings and Scars
In some species, surface markings can also aid in identification. For instance, red maples (Acer rubrum), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9, often bear the circular consequences of their efforts to battle a respiratory disease. This series of rings is known as target canker and can be employed to identify those maples. The American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), also hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9, has patches of white scattered across its light gray bark. Woodpecker holes often indicate that a tree is just a softwood species rather than a hardwood.
The Sniff Test
The inner bark of some trees is very fragrant and can help in identification. Scratch a little of the top layer of bark and sniff. Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9, smells like wintergreen. Wild or sweet cherry (Prunus avium, found in USDA zones 4 through 8), has a powerful almond-like odor. Sassafras bark (Sassafras albidum), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8, has a powerful root beer scent.