Name That Tree: Bark Edition

In our first game of Name That Tree, we mostly used leaf shape to identify the different trees. That doesn't help much in the winter. In this edition, I want to focus on some trees with distinctive bark, so you can find them all year round.

Thanks to Frugal Croissant for taking pictures of trees for me.

Though you might easily find this tree in the middle of the woods, parks, cities, or really anywhere in the American East, you can take its beachside location here as a sort of visual hint.

It's an American Beech!

The key is in the smooth, unbroken sheath of gray bark, which looks to me like an elephant's leg: smooth, wrinkled, skin-like.

Different trees use different strategies to expand their bark as the tree grows. Some bark is cracked or plated; super-smooth beech bark simply stretches. This is especially clear when people carve their initials into the bark. Look at the way the carvings expand and distort as the bark grows.

This tree has interesting bark: it almost looks like it is flaking off.

In fact, that is what it is doing. This is a tree that uses a growth strategy of shedding its old skin in patches, like a snake with eczema. The first time I noticed this, I was concerned about the tree, but this is just what they do. The resulting pattern looks a lot like desert camouflage fatigues.

This camo pattern is classic of the...  

American Sycamore!

Another way to identify this tree in winter is the fruit, spiky balls that hang straight down like Christmas ornaments from the branches.

Here's a close up of a fruit on the ground.


The bright white color is the first thing that jumps out at me about this tall, slender tree. (It looks brownish in this picture because it was dusk, so you'll have to trust me. White as Xerox paper.)

Right off the bat, this white color and small horizontal lines that cover this bark makes me think of one tree...

The Paper Birch. But!!! Notice the upside-down "V" shapes up and down the bark. An oddly soothing survivalist video that explained to me that these triangle shapes are tip-offs that this is tree's true identity is... 


Though I'm sure I've heard the word "aspen" before, the knowledge that this is another slender, white tree right in my neighborhood is totally new to me as of this writing.

Consulting maps of the range of different types of aspen tree makes me guess that this is a Quaking Aspen, so named for the way its leaves tremble in the breeze. I'll have to return in the spring to see if I see the quaking, and if it has smooth, heart-shaped leaves (another way to differentiate it from the birch, which has toothed leaves).

This is what I love about this game. If I hadn't been writing up this post, I would have said to myself, "Birch," and moved on. In fact, that's just what I did do every time I passed this tree. But since I had to confirm it for you, I learned something new. I'll be able to identify aspens from now on!

Happy Tree Hunting!


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