Test Your Knowledge - January

A Test Your Knowledge Unknown
Closeup of Chinese elm bark, showing exfoliating patches of bark
Karen Russ, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Yes, this is Chinese elm bark! The patchwork design of this bark is created as the trunk diameter increases with time, pushing off old bark, and revealing younger bark layers underneath. This process is called exfoliation.

The Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia) is a moderate-sized, spreading shade tree. It is also known as the lacebark elm for its striking, flaking bark. Trees grow 40 to 50 feet high and 35 to 50 feet wide, and grow best in the upstate. For more information on growing this and other elms, see HGIC 1011, Elm.

Patchwork bark pattern on Chinese elm trunks
Patchwork bark pattern on Chinese elm trunks
Karen Russ, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Many trees have exceptionally attractive bark. While this may go unnoticed during the glorious high flowering days of spring and summer, bark can be a main feature of the winter landscape. Tree barks offer a surprising range of color, texture and sculptural interest to consider when choosing plants for year-round garden interest. Position plants with bark interest against a fairly plain or contrasting background to highlight these features.

Some more trees to consider for winter bark interest include:

Paperbark maple (Acer griseum) bark peels off in wide reddish-brown sheets, revealing smooth, shiny under layers. This small maple grows only 15 to 20 feet tall and is an excellent choice for near a patio or entrance where the bark can be appreciated up close. It grows best in the upstate.

The reddish brown peeling bark of paperbark maple shows up well against a background of dark evergreen foliage.
The reddish brown peeling bark of paperbark maple shows up well against a background of dark evergreen foliage.
Karen Russ, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Coral bark Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango kaku’) has brilliant coral red twigs and branches. The color intensifies during cold weather. It is also a small tree, growing 15 to 25 feet tall. Like the paperbark maple, it is best suited to the upstate and will grow best in moist but well drained soil, preferring some afternoon shade in South Carolina. For more information on growing Japanese, paperbark and other maples, see HGIC 1016, Maple.

Coral bark maple twigs in mid-winter
Coral bark maple twigs in mid-winter
Karen Russ, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension

River birch (Betula nigra) is one of the best known exfoliating barked trees and is a native tree that grows well throughout South Carolina. ‘Heritage’ is a cultivar with lighter, very attractive peach and beige color bark. ‘Little King’ river birch is a very dwarf cultivar that grows only 8 to 10’ tall. For more information on river birch, see HGIC 1005, River Birch.

Pale flaking bark on 'Little King' river birch
Pale flaking bark on 'Little King' river birch
Karen Russ, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is another common native tree that develops beautiful bark with age. Older plants exhibit pale reddish-brown or tan shredding bark on sculptural trunks. Lower branches should be removed to fully appreciate this bark. Cedars grow well throughout South Carolina reaching 40 to 50 feet tall with age. They are very tolerant of heat, drought and poor soil. For more information on growing Eastern red cedar and other junipers, see HGIC 1068, Juniper.

Shredding and peeling bark on a mature Eastern redcedar
Shredding and peeling bark on a mature Eastern red cedar
Karen Russ, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia species) are surely one of the best loved small trees in South Carolina, yet their beautiful bark is seldom fully valued. When crape myrtles are allowed to grow in their natural form they develop beautiful, sculptural forms and silky smooth, peeling bark. Many cultivars have handsome colored barks, ranging from silver-gray to deep reddish orange. For more information on growing crape myrtles, and how to properly prune them, see HGIC 1008, Crape Myrtle and HGIC 1009, Crape Myrtle Pruning. Some of the many varieties, along with their bark colors are described in HGIC 1023, Crape Myrtle Varieties.

'Fantasy' crape myrtle bark
'Fantasy' crape myrtle bark
Karen Russ, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Sycamores (Platanus species) are large, rapid growing shade trees well suited to growth throughout the state.  Bark is light gray to chalky white and exfoliates in large patches. Native sycamores can be identified from a distance by their unique bark color. Sycamores need ample space and moist soil for best growth. For more information on growing sycamores, see HGIC 1022, Sycamore.

Light gray and white sycamore bark shows well against the sky.
Light gray and white sycamore bark shows well against the sky.
Karen Russ, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Stewartias (Stewartia species) are small ornamental trees related to camellias. Flowers are white, and similar to single-flowered camellia flowers. They often have excellent fall leaf color and beautiful, flaking cinnamon colored bark. Stewartias generally need moist, acid, woodsy soil, and dappled or afternoon shade. They grow best in the upstate. Most species grow between 15 and 30 feet tall.

Cinnamon colored bark of Stewartia koreana, a moderately heat-tolerant species
Cinnamon colored bark of Stewartia koreana, a moderately heat-tolerant species
Karen Russ, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Most trees are best planted throughout the fall and winter in South Carolina. For more information on planting these and other trees, see HGIC 1001, Planting Trees Correctly.

Karen Russ
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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.