Beautiful bark

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Birch tree, possibly Betula pendula, with Nerine

We are still experiencing a wonderful display of autumn leaves in our area, but soon they will all be fluttering to the ground, and we can then turn our attention to the beautiful bark of many deciduous trees. There is such an amazing variety of colours and textures to be found on bark. One of my very favourite trees in our garden is a beautiful birch with silver-white trunks (possibly a form of Betula pendula. It was given to me as a young seedling grown by a friend more than 20 years ago. I was unsure of whether it would grow well in Sydney, so it sat in its pot for quite a few years. Eventually, it was planted out and now is a well-established tree 5 m tall, which I find great pleasure in gazing at every day of the year. I strew Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides amongst its branches to echo the tints of the bark, and when Nerine bowdenii appears near its base at this time of year, I love the contrast of the sugary pink against the trunk.

Bark of crepe myrtle

Crepe myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica, ht 3 - 8 m) have wonderful mottled fawn and grey limbs and trunks, and when they become bare of leaves at this time of year, we can admire this extra feature of these versatile small trees, so suited for Sydney gardens with their summer flowers and autumn leaves. I prefer the trees to be left to grow naturally, rather than to be pollarded each year as was the old custom in order to produce a huge display of blooms. The natural shape of the tree is so graceful and the trunks just invite a caress.

Bark of Gordonia axillaris

Other dappled bark includes the pretty patterned plane trees (Platanus species, ht to 36 m!), too big for our gardens but often seen as street plantings, and the rich cinnamon brocade trunk of the Chinese elm tree (Ulmus parvifolia, ht 18 m) - another behemoth that can outgrow its welcome in a home garden. A more suitable candidate is the Gordonia, with its variegated orange and brown trunk, although it too can reach a fair size when very mature (ht 8 m or more).

I also enjoy the textures of the attractively crackled bark of many trees including pine trees, liquidambers (Liquidamber styraciflua, ht 24 m), tallowood (Sapium sebiferum, ht 6 - 12 m)*, pistachia (Pistacia chinensis ht 8 m), and the wrinkled, elephantine skin of the jacaranda (Jacaranda mimisifolia, ht 12 - 15 m).

Bark of Melaluca species

Our native trees often display attractive bark: Melaleuca are small-medium trees commonly known as 'paperbarks' and many do indeed have peeling bark like tattered notebooks. The most common species seen in Sydney is probably that known as snow-in-summer (Melaleuca linariifolia, ht 8 - 10 m), with exceptional creamy-white papery bark. It grows naturally around swamps but adapts to most garden situations.

Ghost gum forest, Southern Tablelands, NSW

The bark of many gum trees (Eucalyptus and Corymbia species) is smooth and tactile. When the old bark is in the process of shedding in spring or summer, the colours of the new and old bark often contrast attractively, producing a camouflage effect, which is sometimes apparent even in winter. Such bark might be best appreciated on a winter bush-walk, as many eucalyptus trees are unsuitable for the average-sized garden. A favourite haunt of my children when young was a ghost gum forest (pictured) near the farm in the Southern Tablelands of NSW, a tranquil, picture-perfect scene that equals any man-made garden I have ever visited.

Some gum trees that can be seen around Sydney include the lemon-scented gum (Eucalyptus citriodora, correctly Corymbia citriodora, ht 20-30 m) with a superb straight smooth white, pinkish or grey bark which curls in sheets when it is shed, and the spotted gum (Eucalyptus maculata, correctly Corymbia maculata, ht 30-45 m) with greyish-brown bark which flakes in patches to create a mottled, dimpled effect with creamy-white new bark underneath. Native to our region, the Sydney blue gum (Eucalytpus saligna, ht 40 - 60 m) has a satin-smooth bluish white trunk above its rough grey lower cuff, and it parts with its bark in long strips. Related to the eucalyptus is another quintessential local tree, the Sydney red gum or smooth-barked apple (Angophora costata, ht 25 - 30 m) with a its distinctive twisted limbs and massive orange-red or pinkish trunk, often stained with red gum. Some of the rough bark eucalyptus trees have interesting, textured trunks: the red iron bark or mugga ironbark (Eucalyptus sideroxylon, ht to 25 m) for example, has deeply fissured bark so black that it looks as if burned in a bushfire.

I am taking a short break but will be back soon with more garden musings. Meanwhile, there are plenty of my previous articles to peruse in the blog archives!

* The Chinese tallowwood is now called Triadica sebifera. In many areas, especially warm zones, it is now classed as a noxious weed because it spreads by seed and suckers, and can invade bushland.

Reader Comments

  • By Peta 6253 Monday, 23 May 2011

    The past couple of months have been taken up with organising a local gardens open scheme for us here in the South West of WA. Its lovely now to have the time to catch up with your blog and follow the seasonal changes of a Sydney garden. Not quite the same as here but inspirational nonetheless.

    Thanks, Peta. Hope your scheme goes well. Deirdre

  • By Peta 2758 Monday, 23 May 2011

    Have a good break Deirdre. The creme de la creme of trunk and bark here is Acer griseum. The bark curls like chocolate and underneath all smooth and shiny. Ours is quite old and beautiful. Like you I'm a Betula fan. Our Betula jacquemontiis or Himalayan birches are snow white trunked and strokable.

    Thanks, Peta. The Acer sounds gorgeous. Deirdre

  • By Ian 2119 Monday, 23 May 2011

    The bark on the Chinese Elm next door is just superb at present. My 15 month old granddaughter and I had great fun flicking the loose platelets off. My fondest memory however is the rays of the late sunset striking the bark of the Salmon Gums when I crossed the Nullarbor in 1963. Ian

    Thanks, Ian - must have been a wonderful sight to see those gums. Deirdre

  • By Gillian 2073 Monday, 23 May 2011

    A lovely article on bark. I enjoy the bark of my turpentine tree - its craggy and full of character. Thanks for all your blogs. They give me so much pleasure. Enjoy your well earned break and we will look forward to you returning full of inspiration again!

    Thanks very much! Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 Thursday, 26 May 2011

    eucalypts in park behind us are looking wonderful at the moment, with old bark coming off, exposing the new bark in various colours. My crepe myrtles are also looking fantastic - I dont know when they look their best - with flowers or when they lose their leaves and show their bark!

    All round they are a wonderful tree. Deirdre

  • By Alan 2170 Tuesday, 31 May 2011

    I have just joined this site and must say it is very informative to a budding young horticulturalist as myself. This year I went to see Clarence Stockee at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, to learn about Aboriginal culture. The Melaleuca species of papery bark has many uses. I will send you an email

    Thanks for the information, Alan - it was interesting. Deirdre

  • By Tony 2529 Saturday, 04 June 2011

    Hello all to my first post. Ive been a Horticulturist for the last 19 years, currently working outside this field. But still love plants.. with my current love Fuchsias.. This site looks great. And I look forword to contributing, and learning along the way.. Tony

    Thsnks, Tony - look forward to your input. Deirdre

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