The winter landscape may seem a bit bland at first glance. But if you look closely, you'll find that quite a few plants have interesting bark that is actually easier to appreciate without the distraction of leaves and flowers. Bark often changes over time, so that a species that starts out with thin, smooth bark on twigs and young branches may become thick and flaky or change in color as the plant matures. Beautiful bark comes in many forms, including smooth, shiny, ridged, flaky, blocky or peeling.
Among the better-known candidates for ornamental bark are the birches, the paper bark birch (Betula papyrifera) most obvious. As the tree gets a few years of age, the outer white bark peels off in horizontal sheets to reveal reddish-brown bark beneath. There are several other birch species with attractive bark, including European white birch (Betula pendula) with white, non-peeling bark eventually mottled with black, sweet birch (Betula lenta) with shiny, reddish-brown bark and river birch (Betula nigra) with peeling, scaly bark mottled with cinnamon brown, beige and orange.
Some of the most beautiful bark belongs to the cherry (Prunus) species, many of which are lustrous, shiny and characterized by horizontal grayish-brown markings that are very distinctive. The native black cherry (Prunus serotina) has attractive grayish-black bark, but, due to its prolific production of seedling offspring, can be quite a nuisance species. Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa) is a shrubby cherry with reddish-brown, shiny and peeling bark.