Winter Tree Identification

It’s often a tree’s lush leaves or vibrant needles that catch our attention. But how often do we stop to admire a tree’s bark? It can be difficult to identify deciduous trees in the winter without their leaves, but with these simple identification tricks, you’ll be a pro in no time.

Trees bark holds in moisture, provides a defense against insects and insulates trees from cold and heat. We can learn a lot from tree bark. It tells us about a tree’s overall health and its colour, structure and pattern can provide important clues for tree identification.

Beech Trees

Beech trees have smooth, grey bark. Keep in mind, young trees of many different species usually have smooth bark without obvious textures and patterns. As trees age, the texture and patterns will become more noticeable. Beech trees keep their smooth, unbroken bark throughout their life.

Birch tree
Beech tree bark.

Birch Trees

Birch trees stands out in a forest. Their white and golden-yellow colour and peeling bark are a giveaway. Bark layers peel away in curly, horizontal strips. Young birch trees have reddish-brown bark on their trunks before it turns white.

Peeling bark doesn’t mean a tree is sick. Sometimes the trunk grows faster than the bark surrounding it, so it pushes outward against the bark.

Birch tree
Yellow birch tree bark.

White Ash Trees

White ash trees have rough bark with deep ridges. The gaps in the bark’s outer layers are called the rhytidome. Some species, like a white ash, have ridges and grooves that intersect to form a diamond pattern.

White ash tree bark
White ash tree bark.

Black Cherry Trees

Black cherry tree bark has rounded plates with curled edges that look almost like burnt cornflakes. Some black cherry trees have breaks in the outermost layer of the bark that give the overall appearance of scales. Younger black cherry tree bark is light grey and as the tree gets older, the bark turns darker grey. The bark of many pine and spruce trees also have the appearance of scales but can easily be differentiated from black cherry trees by their needles that remain all year long.

Black cherry tree bark
Black cherry tree bark.

Sugar Maple Trees

Sugar maple is one of the most common tree species in the Credit River Watershed. These trees have a straight trunk and branches that narrowly angle upwards to form a symmetrical rounded crown. Young bark is smooth and grey. As the tree ages, its bark darkens and develops vertical ridges, which may curl outward on one side.

Sugar maple tree bark
Sugar maple tree.

Trees are a critical part of our ecosystem. Sixty-six per cent of Ontario is forested, which is approximately 71 million hectares. Over 20 per cent of CVC’s watershed is forested. If you’re interested in learning more about trees, visit our trees and forest page.

Do you have a favourite tree species? Share your photos with us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

By CVC’s Kimberley Holt, Associate, Marketing and Communications

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