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