Trees are a beautiful addition to any landscape, and not just for their greenery. During the winter months, when many trees lose leaves, those with attractive or unusual bark truly shine.
Gumbo-limbo (Bursera simaruba) is native to South Florida and other tropical regions of the Americas and will only grow in the warmest parts of Florida. A large, semi-evergreen tree, the trunk and branches are thick and covered with an attractive peeling, coppery-colored bark with a shiny, freshly-varnished appearance. The gumbo-limbo is often referred to as the "tourist tree," because locals thought the tree's attractive bark resembled the skin of a sunburnt tourist.
River birch tree (Betula nigra) also provides textural and color interest, with outer bark that strips off, exposing the cream-colored inner bark. For gardeners in North or Central Florida, river birch is a great option for a fast-growing, native tree.
Another native for North and Central Florida is sycamore (Platanus occidental). This large tree has has white bark that peels off in patches.
Popular for its summer-long blooming, crapemyrtle can also have winter appeal. The shedding bark of certain crapemyrtle cultivars such as 'Natchez', 'Biloxi', 'Miami', and 'Apalachee' reveals pleasing shades of brown or cinnamon.
Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia) is grown throughout most of the country. It's often called lacebark elm, which refers to its outer grey bark peeling back in irregular sections to reveal an orange- or cinnamon-colored layer underneath.
Flowering cherry tree, or Taiwan cherry (Prunus campanulata), offers great winter interest for both its reddish-brown bark as well as its blooms of flamingo-pink flowers that appear in January and February. It does best in North and Central Florida and reaches heights of about 20 feet.
While often overlooked, trees can have a significant impact on the landscape, particularly during the winter. A little planning before planting will have you enjoying your landscape even more for years to come.
A Note of Caution
Rainbow eucalyptus (Eucalyptus deglupta) is often mentioned when talking about interesting bark. This tropical evergreen is native to Asia and is one of the fastest-growing trees known. While you might be tempted to plant it for that colorful bark, this tree should not be planted as it is listed as invasive by the UF /IFAS Assessment of Non-native Plants.