The Q&A Archives: Odd Bark On River Birch

Question: I planted several River Birch trees last spring. All of the tress are doing fine growth wise.
However, one of the trees has an unusual bark condition. On this tree, there is a section of bark about 1" to 1 1/2" wide by ~2' long where the bark is not the "soft, peeling layers" normally associated with birches. Instead, the bark in this area is hard and cracked. There are some bands of "normal" bark that run horizontally through this area. When a section of hard bark is removed, it reveals what looks like an otherwise healthy tree that has the same "green/white" inner layer that resides on the rest of the tree if you peel back a section of the "normal" flaking bark. The tree is apparently healthy. There has not been an abnormal insect infestation problem apparent this year. There has been a drier than normal spring/summer, but I have supplemented the area where the tree is planted with weekly deep
watering during the "drought" spells. What is this condition? Is it harmful to the tree?

Answer: Based on your description it is a bit difficult to picture the bark, but what you see may be normal. This tree develops, with age, a very interesting irregular bark patterning with for lack of a better description interesting "scaly plates" which tend to look "shaggy" in contrast to the peeling birch bark we usually picture in our minds when we think of birch. However it could also be the result of some sort of old trunk or bark damage or splitting which has healed in a peculiar way. If you suspect that it is something like this you might wish to consult with either your UMass extension office or a professional arborist to see if there is cause for concern in the long run.

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