Barking Up the Right Tree

The beauty of unclothed deciduous trees includes one of their most overlooked but dramatic features: the bark. Especially in winter the many colors, textures and patterns of bark in selected species seem to take on a whole new beauty.

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An interesting tree that was a specimen at a former home was the shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) which was a very large tree in a small backyard. It came with the house, and if you find one in your landscape, it's definitely worth keeping. This tree can be 60 to 80 feet tall but, given the right environment, might make 120 feet. It is adaptable to a wide range of soils, but prefers well-drained garden loam. The leaves turn yellow and golden-brown in fall. American natives loved this tree for its edible and easy-to-gather nuts. If you like them, you may have to wrestle a few squirrels to get some. The bark is a lovely gray and brown that exfoliates from either end but is attached in the middle. This makes the tree look old and shaggy, hence its common name. Hardy to USDA Zone 4.

Stephanie Cohen is co-author of The Perennial Gardener's Design Primer, which was named one of the best books of 2005 by the Garden Writers of America. Ms. Cohen writes and lectures extensively across the U.S. and Canada. Web site: