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Monday, May 4, 2015

The uniqueness of bark

Thursday, January 21, 2010

One of the advantages of growing up in a rural community was that my school, like many in Indiana, still offered agriculture classes.

Part of my agricultural education included participating in FFA events such as forestry judging.

For those not familiar with FFA (or 4-H) forestry judging, as a "senior" participant, you take a test based on forestry knowledge and then have to identify leaves, seeds and wood samples of various trees. I always enjoyed this FFA event and was very glad that we didn't have to identify a tree based on its bark.

Yet, now that I have learned more about horticulture, I realize that the bark I had been scared of really isn't that bad. Instead, bark is very unique and interesting to look at. The bark of birch always stands out in my mind as being the most unique. The bark of birch trees always appears to be pulling or peeling off the tree as it ages.

Paper bark birch has outer white bark that peels off in horizontal sheets to reveal reddish-brown bark beneath. In comparison, river birch has scaly bark mottled with brown, beige and orange that peels back. Due to the papery thin bark of birch trees, they can easily be damaged by lawn mowers and other similar types of machinery.

When asking my friends what tree really stands out in their minds as having beautiful bark, I was surprised to hear some say cherry. Cherry trees are known for having shiny bark that is characterized by horizontal grayish-brown markings that are very distinct. The two cherry trees that stand out as being truly unique are nanking cherry and paperback cherry. Nanking cherry is a shrubby cherry with reddish-brown, shiny bark that peels back. The paperback cherry has rich, shiny, reddish-brown bark that peels back. However, what makes it unique is that when it peels back, it resembles satin ribbons. In comparison, the bark of black cherry does not typically peel back, but instead resembles burnt potato chips as it matures.

There are a few other well-known trees that have bark that peels away. Mottled bark with large patches of gray brown that peels away to reveal creamy inner bark is associated with sycamore trees. Paperback maple has rich, cinnamon brown bark that peels back. Some say that looking at a paperback maple with peeling bark is truly breathtaking in winter with snow on the ground around it.

Not all trees have bark that peels. Some just look rough, are smooth, are deeply ridged, or flake (or break) off. Kentucky coffeetree has rough looking dark brown, scaly bark. At the other extreme is American beech. American beech is known for its smooth gray to nearly silver bark. When looking for a deeply ridged tree, don't go any farther than a Sassafras tree. Sassafras trees have reddish-brown deeply ridged bark.

Flaking or breaking off of bark is common among a variety of trees. Some of the trees that do this include black gum, Turkish filbert, and honeylocust. Black gum has dark grayish-brown bark that with age, breaks up into a pattern of blocks. Turkish filbert, however, develops a grayish-brown outer bark that flaks with age to reveal an orangey-brown inner bark. Honeylocust bark is smooth, but breaks up into curling, platy bark. The bark of red, sugar, Norway, and silver maple sometimes flake off.

Just like every individual is unique, so are trees. No tree grows at the same rate, has the same leaf pattern or has identical bark. However, above are general characteristics that you can use to help identify trees if you can only see the bark. If you need help obtaining resources to help you identify your trees based on their bark, leaves, fruit or flowers, contact your local Purdue Extension Office at 448-9041 in Clay County or 812-829-5020 in Owen County. If you have any questions or concerns, I can be reached at either of the two numbers listed or via e-mail at smith535@purdue.edu. Please remember that it is always best to call the office as soon as possible to register for programs due to the limited space available in some programs.

Upcoming opportunities available to you through Purdue Extension include:

* Feb. 2 -- Master Gardener Program series starts, Clay County Extension Office, 6-9 p.m.,

Feb. 2 -- PARP and Agronomy Update, Clay County Fairgrounds, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. (Cost $10 for PARP credit),

* Feb. 6 -- Purdue Lambing School, Purdue Animal Science Research and Education Center. Cost $35, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Contact your local Purdue Extension for information on registering for this event,

* Feb. 6 -- Managing Your Equine Experience, Indianapolis, 8:30-5 p.m. Contact 317-968-5491 to register, and

* Feb. 9 -- Living on the Land series starts, Putnam County Courthouse Annex. Cost $200, 6-9 p.m. Call 765-653-8411 to find out more information and to register before Feb. 2.