Peeling curls of bark reveal an array of colors
While their colors are more subtle, several trees with exfoliating bark are also wonderful additions to the winter landscape. I think of exfoliating bark in two categories: bark that peels and curls in papery sheets and bark that shows patches or flakes of different colors.
Of the trees with peeling curls of bark, perhaps the most lusted after is paperbark maple (Acer griseum). This small, slow-growing tree has attractive dark-green trifoliate leaves, but it’s the bark that makes it special. Deep cinnamon-brown to mahogany from trunk to branch tips, the bark exfoliates in lovely papery curls. Paperbark maple makes an excellent specimen tree and will grow best in full sun to partial shade and moist but well-drained soil; it should be planted where you can admire it often.
Several birch species are also noted for their attractive bark, but river birch (Betula nigra) wins the award for abundance of papery curls. As the bark peels in shaggy masses, many colors are exposed, from ivory to tan, ash brown, cinnamon, and even rusty pink. Look for the selection Heritage® for consistently attractive bark and good foliage. River birch performs well in sun to partial shade but needs evenly moist soil and may become chlorotic in alkaline soils.
Plants with patchy exfoliating bark present an intriguing jigsaw-puzzlelike pattern in the winter landscape; a favorite of mine is lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana). This medium-size pine often grows with multiple trunks, which allows a good view of the wonderful brown, olive green, and whitish-gray bark patches. The common crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), a multitrunked small tree, also has wonderfully mottled exfoliating bark. Some of the crape myrtle hybrids (Lagerstroemia indica X L. fauriei) introduced by the National Arboretum are particularly noted for multicolored bark in shades of tan, gray, and reddish brown. Both the lacebark pine and the common crape myrtle prefer full sun and well-drained soil.
Create eye-catching winter interest with the shaggy masses of bark of Betula nigra. The multicolored papery curls put on a consistently attractive display.
Acer griseum steals the show as an ideal specimen tree, with its extravagant, richly colored, peeling bark.
Photo/Illustration: Nancy Rose