How to Identify Trees by Bark

To the majority of people trees are just trees. They’re green and brown, can grow very tall, with a lot of bushy leaves on top. How can we tell them apart, anyways?

Actually, there are multiple characteristics that vary in tree species. From the way the tree sprouts its branches, to the thickness of their trunk, and the consistency and pattern in their bark.

To identify a tree by its bark could come in handy if say, you’re walking through the forest in the winter and the tree has no leaves, which are usually the most common way for nature explorers to distinguish the differing species. Why would you want to correctly identify trees? Well, in case you’re camping and need some firewood, some kinds of wood will build better fires.

Visually identifying trees by bark can be difficult, since the patterns change as the tree ages. The younger it is the fewer patterns the tree bark will have, thus making it rather hard to pinpoint the species of tree you are looking at. Not to mention that visually memorizing the specific patterns on different tree barks can be a rather extensive process.

This is why the tactile sense is the most effective method to identify trees by bark. The color can also help in identifying trees by bark. However, the texture of a tree also changes as the tree matures. For example, saplings are most commonly smooth, and get rougher and develop their marked characteristics over time. Others stay pretty smooth throughout their life, but develop flaky bark as they grow older.

One example of smooth tree bark is the beech tree. It is light grey in color, and has no cracks or wrinkles. Then we have the red maple tree, which has smooth bark like that of the beech tree, but develops flakiness and a peeling effect of the tree bark.

Since so many trees can be smooth in texture, you can look at the color and pattern of the bark as well. The black birch tree can be identified by its smooth dark grey bark that also has raised horizontal lines. The grey birch has very smooth and chalky white bark.

One more way to identify trees by bark is to watch their peeling patterns. Most smooth barked trees do peel in different ways, and watching how they do is a tell- tale sign of what kind of tree it is. White birch trees have chalky white bark that peels in large horizontal strips, while the shagbark hickory peels vertically in very big and curvy strips.

The sycamore tree is by far the most beautiful of the peeling bark trees, because its bark peels in different colors, exposing smooth white, green, and brown bark as it ages and grows.

Of course these are not the only trees out there, and the art of how to identify trees by bark is something that takes time, dedication and study on the subject to fully master. However, this can be quite interesting, and can impress even the least nature-going person of all.


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