Textures, Colors, Patterns: Identifying Trees by Their Bark

With most trees stripped bare of leaves, winter is a great time to get a good look at the wonderful variations of pattern, color and texture that form the trunks and branches of local urban trees. With a little practice, you’ll be able to easily identify many local tree species by name just by looking at their bark. Here are a few to get you started:

beech barkBeech

Found in all four of Pittsburgh’s major parks — Schenley, Riverview, Frick and Highland — these trees can live up to 400 years. The beech tree can be recognized by its smooth silvery-gray bark that contrasts with the browns and dark grays of other forest trees.


 

Photo: Selena NBH, Flickr


Lacebark pine

The lacebark pine is an evergreen and keeps its needles year-round. Its bark peels, or “exfoliates,” uncovering patches of white, green and purple underneath, almost like a camouflage jacket. You can find lacebark pines near the tennis courts in Mellon Park and near the Frick Park gatehouse.


 

sassafras barkSassafras

The bark and roots of the sassafras tree have a scent similar to root beer, and its bark was traditionally used to make tea and for medicinal purposes. The grayish-brown trunk of the sassafras tree is ridged and furrowed.

 


 

london plane barkLondon plane

The rows of majestic London plane trees that line the street near the entrance to Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland are impossible to miss. These massive trees have gray bark that sheds in flakes almost year-round, revealing smooth, creamy-white bark underneath.


 

dawn redwood barkDawn redwood

The dawn redwood was once thought to be extinct but was found in China in 1948. Seeds and seedlings were brought to North America, where it has survived well. The dawn redwood has needles, but, unlike evergreens, it loses them in the winter. It sheds its dark brown bark in long strands, which squirrels snatch up to use as building material for their nests.


 

What other trees have distinct bark? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!