Beautiful Barks

Every few years we have got to talk about barks. And I do not mean when a dog barks. Tree bark is often overlooked when selecting a tree for a landscape, but the decision making process for purchasing a tree should include bark as an aspect of a beautiful tree. Below are 12 trees and their beautiful barks.

Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum), has wonderful, reddish-brown exfoliating bark. This large shade tree also boasts orange-brown fall color, ability to handle wet spots, drought tolerance, and lovely green needle-like leaves that are deciduous. Look for Baldcypress ‘Shawnee Brave’

Black cherry (Prunus serotina) is a commonly found tree in woodlands of eastern Kansas. This native tree has long been prized for its wood and fruit. However, it also has great landscape characteristics, including heat and drought tolerance, beautiful bark, fragrant flowers for pollinators, and it is a larval host for 456 species of caterpillars making it excellent for attracting birds.

Even though Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) does not have a fall color other than brown, it does have long lasting characteristics that make it a great tree. The bark is deeply furrowed and interesting. The acorns are a favorite of many animals and birds. And it is a long-lived, large shade tree that can stand up to Kansas weather. 

Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) is a special tree for the Kansas landscape. This native tree has male and female flowers on separate plants. The bark is platy and peeling making a unique look. The tree may grow very large before spreading with branches, but the bi-pinnately compound leaves gives it a tropical appearance. Look for Kentucky Coffeetree ‘Espresso’ for a male, seedless specimen.

Common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) may be known more for its commonness and its lousy fall color than for its best attributes. The bark is grayish and ridged in scaly protrusions. As a tree itself, it makes a great shade tree that is a larval host for 200 species of butterflies and moths, including the Hackberry Emperor and American Snout butterflies. Look for Hackberry ‘KC Streetview’ in the future for a great Kansas selection. 

Paperbark maple (Acer griseum) is an under-used landscape tree. This small tree from China has bark reminiscent of peeling cinnamon. Along with brilliant reds and oranges in the fall, it grows 15 to 25 feet tall and wide and can handle part shade to full sun, under larger trees. 

Common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is more commonly found in woodlands in southeast Kansas, but there are some great specimens in Nebraska City and southward. The bark is blocky and large, truly a unique feature. If you are able to get a male cultivar, it would be a good addition to the landscape with wet and drought tolerance, yellow fall color, and a large stature.

River birches (Betula nigra) are one of the most iconic, and well loved trees in North America. I recently wanted a series in Mackinac Island where river birches were used because they have no issues with borers up there. Even though we have borers, we seldom see damage or death from them, and thus the trees are widely planted. The peeling white-gray-brown bark is one of the best barks of any tree. It grows large, up to 60 feet tall and wide, and makes a great shade tree. Look for ‘Heritage’ for your yard today!

Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) is one of the most common species found in oak-hickory remnant forests on the eastern edge of Kansas. The bark of the shagbark comes off in long, peeling pieces and often hangs on the tree for months. It is also a host for one of America’s most beautiful moths, the Royal Walnut moth, now almost extinct in the Eastern U.S. Hickories are tough to many conditions and are valuable to wildlife. 

The Manchurian striped maple (Acer tegmentosum) is a small, ornamental tree with great bark values. The striped green and white bark brightens the corners of shade garden. This small maple (20 by 20), fits in as an understory tree in our harsh Kansas landscape. A bonus, the spring flowers are perhaps the showiest of all the maples. In the fall, leaves turn a golden yellow, similar in color to a ginkgo. 

The mighty American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) is a valuable timber and riparian tree, found along streams and rivers throughout the central Great Plains and eastward. It grows large, with some specimens towering out at 120 feet tall and nearly that wide. The bark is mottled gray and brown, peeling off and exposing the white underneath. Some specimens boast white bark nearly to the ground. Look for cultivars ‘KC Snow’ and ‘Old Bones’


Happy planting!

4 thoughts on “Beautiful Barks

  1. You should mention how the Persimmon has some of the best tasting fruit and requires no spraying of chemicals because it has very few pests, and to try and get a male and female tree.

    1. Mike, I will have to do a post just for persimmon in the future. Or maybe our North American native trees with fruit? Thanks for your comment!

  2. I share your enthusiasm for trees with interesting bark and appreciate the inclusion of exotic trees among the native species. While I’ve successfully moved a 5′ Shagbark hickory growing along a fence line at my previous location (I excavated down to 3′ and still had to severe the taproot)–it almost died, but today is 40′ tall–I’ve found only one reliable commercial nursery that offers 1-2′ liners in Michigan, shipped with intact taproots. Even then, I lost the first one I planted. The second one is 3 years old, has adapted to the planting site, and is approaching 30″–s-l-o-w-ly. A couple nurseries in southern states offer larger specimens, but I have doubts about survivability without intact taproots. Do you have any insights on this?
    Also, you might want to include the Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia)–“Lacebark” elm–in your list of trees with interesting bark.

    1. Hi Chris! Thank you for your comment. Yes, Chinese or Lacebark Elm is a very interesting tree with exfoliating bark, but it is also becoming an invasive species in Wichita and the southern United States, and the potential is there to be a problem in Northern areas as well, so I do not try to recommend any tree that is already invasive in my state or close by. As for finding a Shagbark Hickory tree, we do not currently carry them, nor do I believe we will at this time. However, Forrest Keeling Nursery in Missouri should have Carya ovata liners available.

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