Identifying Trees by Their Bark: A Challenge

On a recent walk in Eliza Howell Park, I focused attention on the bark of a number of mature trees. From a distance, the variations in color and texture may not be especially noticeable, but viewing close-up photos helps one understand how tree species can sonetimes be identified by the bark alone.

The trees in the first collage, clockwise starting from the top left, are: American Sycamore, Sugar Maple, Eastern Cottenwood, Yellow-bud Hickory (aka Bitternut Hickory).

Here is a second group of four. From top left, clockwise, they are: Pin Oak, Black Locust, Wild Black Cherry, and American Beech.

I took pictures of trees that I have gotten to know in the past, my identification being made on the basis of a variety of considerations — leaves, seeds/fruit/nuts, shape, size, and bark — not on the bark of the trunk alone. Even in winter, when there are no leaves on trees, the size and shape can be used to help identify the species, along with the bark.

It is very difficult for most of us, myself included, to identify trees by the bark alone. If the reader wants a challenge, try identifying the trees below. They are the same 8 as above, but in a different sequence. The real challenge is to identify them before looking back to the top.

The bark of each species has its own characteristics, but I find it much easier to recognize tree species when I have a little more complete picture.

4 thoughts on “Identifying Trees by Their Bark: A Challenge

  1. We’ve really been studying trees this winter, looking at both the bark and the tree habit and structure. The ‘nut’ trees are typically the hardest for me — the Pin Oak and Hickory were difficult to discern and something I need to work on. It’s a fun puzzle!


  2. Some bark is distinctive, but as you say, rarely used alone for ID. Even on an isolated log the woody elements contribute. If it’s a whole tree: overall shape, where it’s located, and twigs and buds or nearby fruit. Even scent.


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