Exploring the Unique Beauty of Tree Bark

When most people think of the beauty of trees, the first thing that comes to mind is the explosive colors and shapes of fall foliage. But there’s more to a tree than just the leaves! The bark of a tree is also well-worth appreciation.

What Is Tree Bark?

Bark is actually one of the things that set trees apart as a category of flora. While other plants, like shrubs and bushes, can have bark, only trees have the large, central, bark-covered trunk that makes them so distinctive. Tree bark is much thicker than the thin bark you might find on smaller plants.

The structure of tree bark is what makes it so visually appealing. Tree bark is made up of several layers, including the inner bark, the cambium, and the outer bark. The inner bark is the living tissue that transports water and nutrients throughout the tree. The cambium is a thin layer of cells that divide and create new wood and bark cells. The secondary phloem growth that occurs in this layer is what creates the hard, woody tissue inside tree trunks.

The Ancient
Several layers of tree bark are on full display in The Ancient, Max Foster’s photograph of an incredibly old bristlecone pine tree.

The outer bark is the protective layer that shields the tree from damage and disease. This is what we see on most trees, and it’s generally not a good idea to peel this off, as that exposes the more sensitive inner bark to disease. However, some trees naturally have their inner bark exposed. These include cherry trees, sycamore trees, elm trees, and beech trees. It also includes birch trees, which are probably the tree best known for bark. Smooth, white birch bark peels off in thin layers to reveal the cambium– the inner bark– underneath.

The Diversity of Bark

To really appreciate tree bark, you need to take a good look at its texture. Much of the visual drama in fine art photographs of tree bark comes from the rich texture and the variation in color and shadow produced by the way light plays across the surface.

Some bark is deeply ridged and craggy, which adds an extra layer of protection to the tree’s defenses. The ridges and cracks in the bark also help the tree to expand and contract as it grows. Trees with this type of bark texture include cypress, oak, conifers, and hickory.

Canopy of Color
Bald cypress is on center stage in Canopy of Color, a fine art photograph by Max Foster taken at Caddo Lake, Texas. Soft lines of Spanish moss reach down towards harder lines of bark in the trees’ roots, creating an elegant contrast.

Many conifers, like pines and junipers, also have deeply cragged bark. Redwood and giant sequoia trees in particular are known for their rough bark that looks as though it has been deeply etched.

We Three Kings
We Three Kings captures the intense color and beauty of the cinnamon-hued bark of the giant sequoia trees of Kings Canyon National Park.

Other trees have smoother bark. Birch is known for how thin and flexible its bark is; both the inner and outer bark have many uses in traditional craft products such as papermaking, basket weaving, and even fabric manufacture.

Catching Fire
Catching Fire shows the stark contrast of white birch bark against fall foliage in the Superior National Forest in Minnesota.

Aspen trees, like birch trees, are also known for smooth bark. Aspens can be an even brighter white than birches, and their outer bark stands out against the thin lines of the darker inner bark.

Gold Standard
Gold Standard features Colorado aspens, their white trunks standing tall and elegant in golden foliage.

While we typically think of images of tree bark as drawing the eye with lots of vertical, straight lines, this isn’t always the case. Trees are subject to the forces of nature and don’t always grow the way we might expect. This means that the underlying shape of the tree can add fun, exciting elements to the visual interest provided by the tree bark.

Resilience also features aspen trees– but these aspen trees have taken on a unique S-shape, which was likely caused by environmental conditions.

While we tend to think of tree bark as being neutrally colored, this is not always the case! Some trees, like rainbow eucalyptus, have bark with a diversity of colors that makes them look almost otherworldly. Trees like this create splashes of color wherever they grow.

Rainbow Bright
Rainbow Bright is a closeup of rainbow eucalyptus bark, shot by Max Foster in Kauai.

Trees are a popular subject in nature photography; their organic, elegant forms make beautiful luxury fine art prints. For more incredible photographs of trees, check out Max Foster’s Forests and Trees gallery. And the next time you’re outdoors, take a closer look at tree bark. You will soon find that there is much to be seen on the trunk of a tree.

Posted in Fine Art Photography and tagged Trees, Tree Bark.