From the textbook oak to the smooth London plane tree, how well do you know your tree barks?

Tim Dee’s six best English tree barks

What is the quintessence of a tree? The poet W. B. Yeats beautifully stated the impossibility of ever arriving at a satisfactory answer to this question in Among School Children: ‘O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,/Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?’

The bole of a tree is its trunk beneath its branches. And let us add to Yeats’s list of arboreal essentials the bark that cloaks that trunk. To me, bark makes a tree. Plants have leaves and flowers and roots, but only trees have bark. And bark readily declares its sylvanicity or treedom.

English oak (Quercus robur)
The textbook bark, grey-green and grey-brown corduroy and deeply lived in

Common beech (Fagus sylvatica)
A bark somehow still and quiet, smooth, silver-grey and massive, like an elephant in an English wood

Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris)
Papery orange-pink scales; a warming and aromatic bark often bleeding with sticky resin

Silver birch (Betula pendula)
Ash-white bark splits to dark diamonds; the paper-bark species found in gardens and city streets looks even more like a tree turning into a book

London plane (Platanus x hispanica)
Bark plates of warm greys and sandy yellows pulled tight over a chunky frame. An urban survivor I might peel, but I’ll be back

Wild black poplar (Populus nigra)
The most rugged of barks, an upland landscape seen from space. Fissures like rivers in gorges swirl around burrs and snags like mountains and crags