Many trees and shrubs have exfoliating bark that goes unseen during the growing seasons. During the gray days of winter, however, the bark comes to the forefront.

Glistening bark of Acer griseum


Acer griseum, the Paperbark Maple, has gorgeous cinnamon, exfoliating bark that glistens in sunlight. A medium-sized tree, it grows twenty to thirty feet tall and fifteen to twenty feet in diameter. Although it prefers good soil and drainage, it will grow in clay soil and partial shade. The fall color of the leaves is a spectacular bright red or orange. Use as a small shade tree or as a specimen or as a grove.

Grouping of Acer griseum

It had never occurred to me to plant five in a grouping but this fall, at a conference in California, I saw it used this way to great effect.



Colorful bark of Betula nigra in Cleveland garden







Betula nigra, the River Birch, a larger tree that grows forty to fifty feet high and thirty to thirty-five feet in diameter, has exfoliating bark that varies in color from tan to cream. It tolerates wet soil (hello – look at its common name) but also does quite well in average soil. The leaves turn golden yellow in the fall but this tree is most appreciated for its bark. Although it can be purchased as a single stem tree, I happen to think it looks best as a clump.


Heptacodium miconiodes bark in Cleveland garden





One other favorite in this category is Heptacodium miconioides (Seven Son Flower) with its gray to tan bark. Native to China, it prefers moist soil in full sun but I can testify to its ability to withstand extreme drought, once established, and some shade.

Heptacodium miconiodes flower cluster at the back of my driveway








Star-like, fragrant white flowers appear in late August and September.


Heptacodium miconiodes calyces at Fellows Riverside Gardens in October


Then, as the petals fall, rosy calyces and branchlets contribute additional color and interest to the landscape.  Woody plants that supply both fall flowers and then additional color are to be treasured.