Tree identification can be done using a variety of characteristics. In the warm months, we use leaves, blooms, and fruits to identify them fairly quickly. In winter, we use dried leaves and fruit (often nuts) if they are available, but sometimes we have only twigs and bark. I have written about using twigs, but I generally shy away from encouraging someone to use bark. I always recommend that one use more than one characteristic when possible.
|American beech (Fagus grandifolia), bark and trunk flare
On any given species, the appearance of the bark can change over time. Young saplings often have smooth bark while pictures of bark in books show bark as it appears on mature trees.
A couple of the notable exceptions that come to mind are trees that have smooth bark even as an adult: American beech (Fagus grandifolia) and musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana); they stay smooth as they age.
However, recognition by bark can still be a very effective tool if you come across a mature tree or you are good with memorization. Memorization helps me a lot. This week I visited a preserved natural area known for its big trees (Big Trees Preserve in Sandy Springs, GA) so I had a chance to see and photograph some really good examples of bark. Some of them I knew ... some of them were conveniently tagged with labels. And I learned a few new ones with the help of some friends.
|White oak (Quercus alba) has shaggy bark even when young|
|I looked up at this very mature Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) |
and was able to see the leftover fruit using binoculars; I did not
recognize the bark at all
|The bark of this loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) looks like plates|
|This white ash (Fraxinus americana) was new to me; a friend identified it |
and also used the fallen seeds on the ground to confirm his identification
|This dogwood's bark (Cornus florida) has a similar blocky look |
but of course it is a much smaller tree in stature
|This sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) looks similar to the ash also,|
but the color of the bark is darker and the furrows seem more linear
than blocky; also it is more common in my area
|The bark of musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana) stays smooth |
even when mature
|The bark of red maple (Acer rubrum) is smooth when young |
but gets flaky with age
|A young sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) is flaky |
already, but the bark underneath is greenish,
not the bright white of mature ones
Here are 3 trees that look way too similar to me. I certainly prefer having a second way of identifying them other than the bark on these big guys.
|This mockernut hickory (Carya alba) fortunately has a rather distinct|
diamond pattern on older bark but woe is me if I find a young one
|This black gum's bark (Nyssa sylvatica) is rather plain, |
give me a twig, please!
|Yep, this tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) looks pretty bland|
too; but again I can use my binoculars to look way up and
see the leftover seed capsules that remain
A good southeastern tree identification book that has pictures of mature bark as well as other characteristics (twigs, fruits, leaves) is Native Trees of the Southeast: An Identification Guide by Kirkman, Brown and Leopold.