When I’m out on a walk, especially in woodlands, I often get very strange looks from fellow walkers. It may be because I’m photographing a particularly striking moss or lichen in a stone wall which they can’t see as they go striding by;
or, down on my knees, I may be exploring the wonders of a fungus. I delight in the small, but I also delight in the details of the large, and when I’ve got my nose or my camera an inch or two away from the trunk of a very ordinary-seeming tree the looks they give me can become rather concerned.
But, you see, bark is worth noticing, we shouldn’t take it for granted. Silky smooth or deeply crevassed, a tree’s skin is a wonderful, and often astonishing, thing. It provides protection from the elements, it grows and changes as the tree matures, and in some species even allows the tree to breathe.
Compared to the bark of trees from around the world, the bark of native British trees is rather understated. We have no Rainbow Eucalyptus, Lipstick Palm, or anything as glorious as the Tasmanian Snow Gum which looks as if someone has attacked it with ten different cans of spray paint.
But don’t let this depress you. We have wonders of our own which we should seek out and treasure. The patterns of lichen on the greeny-grey trunks of young sycamores create a beautiful mosaic; the range of pinks, oranges and browns in the layers of a Scots Pine’s bark is fascinating, and has an invigorating scent, so much better than any artificially created perfume; the silvery white skin of a birch, peeling off like sheets of paper; and the occasional astonishing deep red of a peeling birch should make us stop and look at them properly.
Don’t just glance at them briefly as you walk past and forget them in the blink of an eye. Give them some time, pause for a proper look, absorb what you see and store them in your mind’s eye. Some are worthy of a place in any upmarket art gallery.
And there isn’t just colour, there are so many patterns and shapes to be found on even the commonest of trees.
Take note of the multiple stems of a yew, like a series of organ pipes surrounding the main trunk, and appreciate the texture of the bark which covers them. Many trees have astonishing patterns of lenticels – the ‘pores’ through which the tree can breathe – beautiful, and sometimes amusing. Notice and appreciate the patterns left on the trunk of a mature sycamore where layers of outer bark have peeled away. And the oddities, where bark has become squeezed, twisted, and metamorphosed into weird shapes.
And sometimes you can find the homes of some of the tree’s inhabitants.
There is no end to the
pleasure to be gained
from giving the bark of
trees your time and
attention. Happy gazing on your next walk!
For those who want to see more wonders, such as the above mentioned Tasmanian Snow Gum, I recommend the book ‘Bark’ by Cédric Pollet, Francis Lincoln Ltd 2010. ISBN 978-0-7112-3137-5