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!

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The Giving Tree: Commemorative Plantings

The Giving Tree: Commemorative Plantings

The greatest joy of the work I do is planting trees.

If you’re reading this blog, I doubt that I need to sell you on the ecological importance of trees. I don’t need to list all the ways that they make our lives and our planet better, you know that.

Over the past four years I have been honored to oversee the Parks Conservancy’s Commemorative Tree Planting Program in partnership with my colleague Phil Gruszka. I’ve planted trees to celebrate lives well lived and too early lost. I’ve been there for graduation ceremonies and for the exchange of vows. And what I have felt deeply from those experiences is the emotional significance trees can play in our lives — the spiritual, mythological and folkloric meaning they carry.

And most importantly, the way they make us feel.

Veda's tree_Schenley 11.15.14

Family gathers in Schenley Park to celebrate the life of their loved one, Veda.

While the meanings and interpretations of a tree or tree planting are as varied as we are, they provoke a collective feeling of warmth.

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Andrew with his tree planted in Highland Park to celebrate his college graduation.

Usually when I meet a donor in the park to plant a tree we have never met face to face, but by the time we part I often get a hug. We are there to do good work and we are connected by the emotional significance of the moment and the change it will create.

In the Jewish faith it is said that trees were the first living things put on earth. Buddha attained enlightenment while seated beneath a tree. We dedicate non-religious holidays to trees all over the world. In the US you may stop to plant a tree on Arbor Day, or Dia Da Árvore in Brazil, Nationale Bloomplantdag in the Netherlands, Tag de Baumes in Germany, or Van Mahotsava in India.

We are globally united with acceptance of the significance a tree planting carries, no matter what life perspective we bring to it.

Veda's tree 4_Schenley 11.15.14

Family mulching a tree in Schenley Park to celebrate Veda.

I am often asked what the “ceremony” in the Commemorative Tree Planting Program entails. I can tell you that every single one is different. I am always there, along with Phil (our resident arborist and Parks Management and Maintenance Director) or one of our ecologists. We plant a fairly large tree (approximately 2” caliper) that has been transplanted from a local tree farm or nursery. The type of tree and exact planting location is arranged in advance based on the donor’s wishes. Sometimes large groups come to be a part of it (I’ve seen as many as 30) and other times it is just the donor. There have been groups who want to get in and get their hands dirty and others where they stand back and enjoy the tree once it is planted. Songs have been sung, prayers read, and violins played. It really can be anything you want it to be.

tree planting day 11 15 14

Kathleen and Phil with their work boots ready at a planting day.

I have watched grief-stricken families approach us along a slope in Schenley Park, their faces worn with loss and exhaustion. Once the tree is in the ground they all leave a little lighter. They will see this tree again and watch it live and grow. We celebrate the endeavors of life too. I have seen a sapling transform into a monument to accomplishments large and small as the last bit of dirt is thrown. People change before our eyes – filled with new gratitude, or comfort and resilience. It is one of the greatest honors of my life to be a part of that.

Any reason to celebrate is a reason to plant a tree. I visit the trees I have helped plant and believe firmly that each tree lives in the spirit in which it was planted. They are living totems to the struggles and joys of our lives. And as if that were not gift enough, they will continue to serve our community for generations to come.

Kathleen Gaines, Manager of Individual Giving

Learn more about planting a tree for a special person or occasion in your life by clicking here.

Speaking for the Trees

Speaking for the Trees

Last week, a bloom of garden writers cropped up in Schenley Plaza. There was laughter, there was garden conversation, there was… a flash mob to the song “Happy.”

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Did we mention that garden writers are a rowdy bunch?

The 600 or so party animals gardeners from across U.S. and Canada were in town for the Garden Writers Association convention and made a special stop in Schenley Plaza to see the award-winning gardens that are on display there — for free! — all year long. They were also there to scope out the Every Tree Tells a Story exhibit, made possible by Davey Trees and the Cultural Landscape Foundation and going on now around the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain.

During their stop, we asked them to do what they do best — tell some stories! Davey Trees recorded 70 or so really amazing tree tales, which are posted to their YouTube channel. Here are some of our favorites:

And our Most Favorite Video Award goes to…

Have you visited the Every Tree Tells a Story exhibit yet? Catch it before it ends on September 1st!

If you would like to speak out for the trees, we invite you to join us at our Park Tree Fund launch event on Thursday, August 21st. The Park Tree Fund exists to maintain and strengthen our urban forest. With your support, we can keep Pittsburgh’s trees growing strong for generations to come. Now that would be a great story to tell.

We want to hear your tree story! Post your stories to the comments section below. 

American chestnut comes back

We thought we’d share some exciting news about the rebirth of the American chestnut that we came across in the Chicago Sun-Times.  This is especially interesting to us because our own Phil Gruszka has been part of this research. There’s an orchard in Highland Park that has been part of the chestnut breeding program for years, and we’re glad Pittsburgh (and Phil!) has been able to help bring back the chestnut.

Link: American chestnut ready to reign again, Chicago Sun-Times