Tree Bark Is Beautiful

Remarkable for its visual diversity, tree bark also protects and nourishes trees, animals and humans.

  • Quaking aspens in Kaibab National Forest, Arizona.
  • A moose calf strips away outer bark to feed on nutritious inner bark.
  • Detail of ponderosa pine bark.
  • Strips of bark peel away from a white birch.
  • Detail of sycamore bark.
  • A gray tree frog blends in with bark.
  • Detail of red pine bark.
  • Patterns in cottonwood bark.
  • A seedling oak tree (foreground) grows in front of a mature oak tree.

Here it is, the season of same-old-same-old: same old freezing rain, same old snow, same old chill winds, gray skies and barren, shivering timbers. In most parts of the country, it is the season of bleak landscapes, of nature-in-waiting for brighter days.

Or so it would seem. In some cases, winter’s apparent bleakness is only an illusion, self-induced by our tendency to overlook the beauty in the obvious, the everyday, the right-there-in-front-of-our-noses. Take, for example, those barren, shivering timbers I mentioned. True, the deciduous trees outside our windows are void of their lush summer greenery, their bare branches etching the skyline like long, stark, bony fingers.

But wait a minute: Grab a hat and coat, pull on some boots, go outdoors and take a closer look at those trees — no, not at what’s not there (leaves, fruit, flowers and seeds), but at the natural wonder that cradles, nourishes and protects every tree throughout its lifetime: bark.

Confounding Diversity

There certainly are exceptions to the notion that the world of tree bark isn’t showy or colorful. Some trees have emphatically bright-hued barks that stand out in the landscape: the white-lined, emerald-green bark of the striped maple; the striking metallic sheen of the yellow birch; the startlingly ivory, black-scribed trunk of the white birch, its wispy bark peeling back in thin ribbons to reveal creamier layers below.

But it’s form, not flash, that mostly makes our trees’ bark so extraordinary. Stand in a winter woodlot and look around, and at first glance you’ll notice not much more variety than subtle differences in shades of gray and brown. But if you move closer and spend some time examining each tree, you’ll discover an astounding diversity of bark patterns and textures: rough or silky smooth, thick or thin plated, furrowed or peeling, wavy or straight lined, ribbed or ridged, cracked or bumpy.

1/12/2015 1:58:02 PM

A Denver-based photographer I follow has taken breathtaking and beguiling bark photos for several years. The photographer is Ben Wilson from Eye and Eye Photography.

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