river birch 2 604x270 - 5 Simple Ways to ID Trees by Their Bark

5 Simple Ways to ID Trees by Their Bark

river birch 2 - 5 Simple Ways to ID Trees by Their Bark
River Birch (Betula nigra)

Today I’m looking forward to leading a winter tree ID walk.

One of the easiest ways to identify trees is by their leaves.

However, in the winter, most trees have dropped their leaves (at least in the northeast where I live).

What to do?

How about looking at the tree’s bark?

When you look closely at tree bark, you’ll see variations in appearance including colors and textures.

nuthatch - 5 Simple Ways to ID Trees by Their Bark
White-breasted Nuthatch on Spruce (Picea)

Here are 5 simple ways to identify trees by their bark.

Smooth, Unbroken Bark – although most young tress have smooth bark, this often changes as trees age. However, some species like American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) and Red Maple (Acer rubrum) have smooth bark throughout their lifespans.

Peeling Bark – this is common to Sycamore (Platanus), Birch (Betula) and some Maple (Acer) trees.

Deep Ridges and Furrows – if a tree has very rough bark, take a look at its ridges and furrows. White Ash (Fraxinus americana), has ridges and furrows that intersect and look like a basket weave. Others, like Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra), have uninterrupted ridges.

squirrel on ash 1170x878 - 5 Simple Ways to ID Trees by Their Bark
Gray Squirrel on
White Ash (Fraxinus americana)

Color – you can also look at the color of a tree. Beech (Fagus) trees have a light gray bark, Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) has dark red-brown bark, and Red Oak (Quercus rubra) bark is dark reddish gray brown.

Smell Test – scratch a tree’s twig to see if it has an odor. Some Pine (Pinus) trees smell like turpentine, Birch (Betula) smells like wintergreen, and Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) smells like cinnamon and spice.

With your new skills, see if you can identify two trees this week by their bark.

red oak - 5 Simple Ways to ID Trees by Their Bark
Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra)

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