The Beauty of BarkBy Sharon Brown (Sharran)
January 16, 2009
Cupcake is nobody's cat. She came a few summers ago to my neighborhood, and she stayed. My neighbor claims her somedays, but other days she hangs out with me. This works out fine with my neighbor and me, because he is not always at home and I am, and none of it seems to bother Cupcake at all. One day last week I was wandering down the driveway on my way to get the mail. Pondering the gloom of the day, I heard a little cry, much like the sound of a baby. This is a street of old folks, and none of us has a baby in our lives, so I decided it was the mockingbird that annoys cats to a ridiculous degree on this street. Instead, when I finally looked around, I found Cupcake in the top of the wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) that I had twisted and twined over the years until now it thinks it is a tree. She was well over my head and she seemed to be stuck. With my long flannel pajamas waving in the wind, I climbed on an outdoor table, pulled myself up through the strangling vines and nabbed Cupcake. We both escaped with minor scratches and lived to tell the tale, but I noticed when I backed my way down off the table that the bark on the wisteria looked truly lovely, gray with strongly curved vertical lines.
Cupcake and I had a little talk about her place in the world and we continued to wander around in the yard looking for interesting things. My world that day was anything but lovely, but my coffee was hot and Cupcake was happy. While Cupcake sharpened her claws on my red maple (right)I thought of all the years it has grown here. It came with the house, a tiny thing all those years ago, and I have divided opinions as to its proper name, but it truly has an interesting bark pattern and its majestic canopy covers my driveway. It isn't smooth like the wisteria, the bark is roughly textured, but there is the same vertical pattern in the bark, just as there is in the wisteria.
My coffee was getting cold, the bottom edges of my pajamas were soaked and muddy, and it was a very cold day. Cupcake was tired of roaming and wanted breakfast, but my mind was back on the designs I was finding in the natural elements of my yard. My river birch tree (left) is near the front door. Betula nigra is eyecatching with its paper thin bark. I use it often for Christmas decorations, and it serves that purpose very well. I also use it for teaching my grandson that bark is beautiful, and it provides vital protection for the tree's growth tissue beneath it. I thought it was time I learned that lesson myself. Bark truly is beautiful and on a cold January day, I decided to give it some serious attention. Nothing else in my garden looked very beautiful, but somehow the patterns and textures in bark had already captured my attention.
Back inside, I turned to Dave's Garden Plant Files and to photographs of trees that were more interesting than those in my yard. Victorgardener's photo of Heptacodium micontoides, Seven Sun Flower, (right) is gorgeous. This is an unusual multistemmed shrub, which can also be trained as a small tree. It's exfoliating bark is in shades of brown and gray, but I find that white blooms will appear in late summer and earlyfall. It grows well in zones 6 through 9.
Mgarr gives us a photo of Betula paperifera, much like my river birch, but the bark of the paper birch peels in more even thin strips to reveal a rust colored layer when first exposed. Like mine, in early spring, yellow green catkins emerge. The paper birch is great for zones 2 through 7.(left)
The Japanese stewartia, as photographed by Planter 64, is one of my favorites. The bark of Stewartia pseudocmellia is enchanting year round. Winter reveals the mottled bark in greens, grays, red and brown.
White camellia like flowers bloom in summer and leaves turn vibrant shades of red in fall. It grows in zones 5 to 8.(right)
The kousa dogwood, Cornus kousa, photographed by Slyperso1, has a patchwork bark of browns and grays. It flowers profusely in spring and later in summer and early fall it yields dangling raspberry like berries. It is good for zones 5 to 8 also.(above left)
Pinus densiflora, also known as the Tanyosho pine, is another lovely barked tree that shows well in Slyperso1's photo. It is a slow growing conifer that has reddish brown and gray bark. It has an umbrella shaped canopy and grows in zones 4 to 7.(left)
In a photo from KMAC we can see the Japanese cedar, Cryptomeria japonica, which is an unusual conifer that grows best in acid soil in a sunny location that is protected from harsh winds. The bark peels in long strips in shades of reddish brown. Its needles turn bronze in winter. It grows well in zones 5 to 9. (below right)
In my own world here in western Kentucky, which is a questionable zone somewhere around 6b and 7a, I can always turn to my eastern red cedars, Juniperus virginiana, not truly a cedar, but don't mention that fact to Kentuckians. The older the tree, the more beautiful the bark, and this gentleman is wonderfully old. I would think he has stories to tell.(left)
My little furry friend, Cupcake, has given me a new perspective. In spite of my winter doldrums, the cloudy skies, the gloomy days, I can surely find beauty that nature provides in the simplest things. Cupcake enjoys the tops of trees, and as long as I have to come to her rescue, I think I might as well stop and take a look at the designs in the bark. We can usually find beauty wherever we look, if only we take the time to see it.
Photographers are identified in order of the appearance of their photos above. Thanks so much to all of them for providing the photos through Plant Files. The wisteria, river birch and red cedar are my own.
Most information is from Daves Garden Plant Files.