Guide to Tree Identification by Bark

Red Oak - Tree identification by bark.jpgA bark of a tree is its natural protection from harsh elements and any kind of threat to it. Not only is it protective in nature to the tree, but it also performs certain functions, such as getting rid of the tree’s wastes by absorbing them in its dead cells and resins and holding them captive there. Also, the tree’s living tissue (phloem) carries nutrients through the length and breadth of the tree, whereas xylem (wood) is responsible for carrying water and essential minerals from the roots of the tree to its leaves. But have you ever done tree identification by bark? Here are a few pointers…

How to identify trees by their bark:

To identify a tree by its bark, the first step is to look at its various parts and on the basis of these, find it out in a tree

guide. If you’re into wilderness survival, this would be a great skill for you, as it would help you to know the kind of trees whose wood you can use to make a fire or tools, or a shelter.

For indigenous peoples, a thorough knowledge of trees has always been important and basic for their survival. Anyone with an interest in tree identification would know that a tree can be spotted by any of its distinctive parts—its leaf, flower, fruit, cone or seed, type of branch, bark or crown formation.

To begin identifying a tree by its bark, look at a larger part of the tree—its bark. Check out its texture and look to see if there are any growths like nodes growing on the bark. Here’s what you can look out for:

  • Whether the bark is smooth to touch or is bumpy
  • Whether it is thick or thin
  • Whether it is shaggy, cracked or fissured
  • Whether it has scales, grooves, flakes or is fibrous
  • Whether the bark patterns run vertically or across the tree trunk
  • Whether the bark is made up of one color or several

Let’s look at a few trees with their signature barks:

  • Ash Fraxinus Excelsior: Its bark is smooth and pale grey when a sapling. As it grows older, it develops shallow pits, deep cracks and bosses.
  • Red Oak: Red oak is identified by its light grey bark, with a smooth and lustrous texture.
  • Silver Maple: You can tell you’re gazing at a Silver Maple tree when you see a gray-brown bark, slit. At first, it is smooth but as it ages, it develops longish grooves.
  • Ruby Horse Chestnut: The bark of this tree is dark greenish-grey and it is smooth to touch.
  • Speckled Alder: A Speckled Alder tree has a grey bark and is very smooth.
  • Wild Cherry: This one is maroon and lustrous and is accompanied by tiger stripes. It also bears deep grooves and Shiny and maroon, with ‘tiger’ stripes; often also deep grooves and small openings or pores in the bark, known as lenticels. Ribbons of the old bark peel off to reveal the new one.
  • Service Tree: The bark of this tree is grey and it stands out from the rest due to its small scales and shallow pits.
  • Sessile Oak: This tree is distinctive for its smooth grey bark with grooves that develop as it ages.


Bark & Buds: How to Easily Identify 12 Common European Deciduous Trees in Winter

Author: John Clax

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