Trees For Winter Bark

Beauty is only skin deep. Learn how to create winter interest with trees that exfoliate beautiful bark.

Paperbark maple exfoliates its bark to reveal an orange-cinnamon trunk.

Paperbark maple

Paperbark maple exfoliates its bark to reveal an orange-cinnamon trunk.

Paperbark maple exfoliates its bark to reveal an orange-cinnamon trunk.

Winter is the perfect time of year to take a good hard look at your landscape. Sure, you may not have enough evergreens for breaking up that depressing sea of browns. And  it’s way too early to look for emerging bulbs, providing just about the season’s only splash of color.

But one sure-fire way to add interest to the garden in winter is to plant trees with beautifully textured bark – especially trees that naturally exfoliate, shedding their skin to reveal different colors and textures. Think crape myrtles, sycamores and lacebark elms, to name a few.

Pick a day when the sky is clear blue to observe trees like these. Set against a solid backdrop, their trunks are textured canvases of splitting, peeling and chafing bark that often reveals a contrasting color underneath. Take the ‘Natchez’ crape myrtle, for example. In spring and summer, it sends up branches of fragrant white blossoms, which in fall give way to bright orange foliage. Yet, this tree’s encore occurs in winter, when its shaggy brown bark peels away to unveil a smooth cinnamon-colored trunk.

Exfoliating is a natural process in which the barks peels off in thin layers or flakes as the tree grows and expands in diameter. It is also used by some trees to shed themselves of pests like insects, scale and fungi.

Although it occurs at various times of year—and for many trees, only every other year—exfoliation is most noticeable in winter when trees are bare of leaves. When adding such a tree to your landscape to create winter interest, place it in front of a backdrop of evergreens or conifers that will help show off the bark’s interesting texture.

Here are six trees to consider:

  • River birch, Betula nigra: Spectacular cinnamon-colored peeling bark. Consider the ‘Heritage’ variety with its salmon-cream to brownish bark which exfoliates to reveal a creamy white under layer.
  • Chinese or lacebark elm, Ulmus parvifolia: Multicolored exfoliating bark.
  • Paperbark maple, Acer griseum: Peeling orange-cinnamon bark.
  • Crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia: Gray exfoliating bark. Consider ‘Natchez’ with its cinnamon under layer.
  • Dawn redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides: Roughly textured peeling orange-brown bark.
  • American sycamore, Platanus occidentalis: Mottled exfoliating gray bark flakes off in large irregular masses leaving a greenish-white, gray and brown under layer.

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