December 2016: Bark


“Lay aside your cloak, O Birch-Tree,
Lay aside your white-skin wrapper.”
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


When trees have shed the last of their leaves, we might think our days of exploring what nature has to offer have come to an end--at least until spring. While we might walk by bare trees without a second glance, we should look again--and look closer. The layers of a tree’s bark are both its coat and its vascular system, its decoration and its support. The appearance and texture of bark are different for every tree and each one is worthy of contemplation, even in the chill of winter.

At the Arboretum

The Winter 2016-2017 issue of our member publication Seasons is out now, featuring a piece called “Bark-spotting in Winter”. Kris Bachtell, Vice President of Collections and Facilities discusses some of the best places to find beautiful bark around the Arboretum, and shares some of his favorite barks. Learn about the projects and research happening at the Arboretum by viewing past issues of Seasons here.


“The beech tree called American
Has bark that’s smooth and silver-gray.
Tan leaves still cling to limbs and branches
On this cold, bright winter day...

...The peeling bark of paper birch
Feeds hungry hares that eat their fill.
Inside the trunk, a narrow nest protects a bird from winter’s chill.”
--Carole Gerber, Winter Trees

Library Resources

Bark: The Formation, Characteristics, and Uses of Bark Around the World by Kjell B. Sandved, Ghillean Tolmie Prance, and Anne E. Prance
Tree Bark: A Color Guide by Hugues Vaucher
The World of Trees by Hugh Johnson
Seeing Trees by Nancy Ross Hugo
Native Trees of the Midwest: Identification, Wildlife Values, and Landscaping Use by Sally S. Weeks

Resources for Young Readers

Bark by Catherine Chambers
Trees, Leaves, and Bark by Diane Burns
Winter Trees by Carole Gerber

Special Collections Resources

In addition to our wonderful circulating collection, Sterling Morton Library holds archives and special collections materials ranging from hand-drawn artwork to prints and rare books. These materials are viewable with an appointment. To see them, please contact us.

Fragrance and Flavor in Leaf, Bark, Twig, and Fruit by May Theilgaard Watts 
Oaks of the Arboretum by May Theilgaard Watts