Q: I wanted suggestions for a tree with interesting bark. I want to start with a small one that will develop after I plant it this fall.
A: You are right to recognize that some of the trees with the most interesting bark don't necessarily display it when they are young. I assume you will have a reasonable area for this tree and that you don't care if it provides shade or not.
Before you visit a nursery to choose a tree, you should make a list of your soil conditions, including the type of soil and how much water it will hold. You should note nearby competing shrubs and vines and the exposure that the tree will have. Wind and hot afternoon sun can and should influence your choice. The color or type of bark is a cosmetic choice, while the actual growing conditions are the most important place to start your search.
Bark colors are so various that you have many types of trees to choose from and one will surely prosper in whatever conditions you have. The birches range from a pure white bark to a pale grey and they are tolerant of wet sites. The tree-sized crape myrtles, like Natchez with its white flowers, has lovely cinnamon-colored exfoliating bark that peels to reveal several colors and always looks interesting. It will grow beyond 25 feet tall and usually have several trunks which provide interest.
Another tree with exfoliating bark that has a great winter color is the Cinnamon Bark Maple. It is smaller than other maples but has a gorgeous deep green leaves and extraordinary bark color. The new growth on the Japanese maple called Sango Kaku is coral colored and it is striking in spring. It is a smaller and more delicate tree but it does not like a hot or windy location.
If you want a really big tree, you can choose a sycamore with its lacy bark of many colors. The pale grey bark of the Ironwood tree resembles the smooth, muscled hide of an elephant. It is a slow grower and rare. You also can find that smooth grey bark on beech trees that grow to a great size.
Make up your list of conditions and visit your nursery and you will find a tree to last a lifetime.
Contact Pat Lea at firstname.lastname@example.org.