Extension Educator, Horticulture
Winter provides the perfect opportunity to see our landscapes in a new light. The shiny leaves and distracting flowers of summer are a faint memory. Trees, denuded of their leafy finery, reveal their picturesque form and distinctive bark in winter. Some require a bark appreciation class while others are effortlessly valued by all like a fine Van Gogh.
Paper birches are known for their bright white bark of northern forests and dugout canoes. The brown exfoliating bark of river birches is distinctive, but its color is more reminiscent of the Sangamon River than the white caps of northern lakes. Few trees rival the pearly white bark of our native sycamore often found sprawled along the banks of local rivers.
The exfoliating cinnamon colored bark of paperbark maple (Acer griseum) has few rivals. Even as a young tree it quickly fulfills its destiny of awe-inspiring beauty. They are sometimes difficult to find in garden centers, but are worth the effort to locate them. If you would like to be awe-inspired, you can enjoy two paperbark maples locally, located on the west side of Allen Hall on East Gregory Avenue on the UI Urbana campus. While you are there wander on over to a very large paperbark located in the parkway southwest of the UI Agriculture Library. This magnificent tree was moved to the parkway when the expansion of Bevier Hall threatened its demise. With lots of TLC it has stretched its limbs into its new home.
The silky spicy-brown bark of amur cherry (Prunus maackii) is exquisite in every season. Both amur cherry and paperbark maple deserve a front row seat in the landscape where they can be appreciated up close. Some trees mysteriously attempt to hide with their trunks draped in camouflage clothing, but instead grab our attention with their multicolored bark. Lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana) bark is clothed in winter camouflage gear with shades of grey and white. The bark of corneliancherry dogwood (Cornus mas), lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolia), and Japanese zelkova (Zelkova serrata) flakes off as the trees age to reveal a patchwork of varying shades of grey, brown and orange.
Some trees are not as obviously barkalicious. Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) offers smooth grey bark with dark striations. With their white spring flowers and red to yellow fall color serviceberry is a small tree with four season beauty. The sinewy bark of musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana) proves the tree is appropriately named. As beech trees (Fagus spp.) age their trunk looks like a trunk, as in elephant trunk. Our native Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) has some of the most remarkable bark, even as a young tree. The long smooth plates curve gracefully out at the sides. If ants could skateboard, the coffeetree would be a half-pipe dream.
Before shiny green leaves divert our vision, enjoy the winter beauty of trees.
Wednesday Feb. 27, 12:15-1:15 p.m. Winter Tree ID - prerecorded Webinar at UI Extension auditorium 801 North Country Fair Drive Champaign. Bring your lunch and uncover a few basic ways to identify trees in winter, just in time for our Naked Tree Walk. No fee or registration required.
Discover branches-in-the-buff on Friday March 1 from 2:00-4:00 p.m. This year our Naked Tree Walk we will be at Hessel Park on Kirby Avenue (between Prospect Ave. and Neil Street) in Champaign. Join Craig Kempher of the Champaign Park District, Jean Burridge Master Naturalist and artist for the new Hessel Park Tree Walk Guide and me at the main park pavilion off the circle drive on the north side of the park. Come join us as we say goodbye to winter, hello to spring and revel in the beauty of naked trees. Open to the public, so bring your friends. And remember my motto "You don't know a tree til you know it naked".