Trees For Ornamental Bark and Stems

We are used to thinking of planting trees for their flower or foliage, but many have attractively coloured, peeling or patterned ornamental bark. Some trees will also throw out particularly coloured new growth adding extra interest at the beginning of the growing season.

Acer griseum Ornamental Bark


Acers are often chosen for their autumnal colours and spectacular leaves but the ornamental bark can also be a dazzling feature. The below varieties are particularly well known for their bark:

Acer capillipes – Small tree with striated snakeskin-like bark which is red turning brown with white streaks.

Acer davidii ‘George Forrest’ – Green and white snakeskin-like striated bark.

Acer griseum – Brown flaking bark with yellowish green leaves turning scarlet red in the autumn.

Acer palmatum ‘Sango kaku (Senkaki)’ – Bright coral-red stems emerge in the winter.

Acer rufinerve – Young stems glaucous, older stems and trunk are green with white striated bark.


Betula trees have a wide range of ornamental bark features, from dynamic white to chocolate brown, smooth and shaggy. It takes time for the bark colour to develop, but it is well worth the wait. Below are just a handful of examples:

Betula albosinensis ‘Red Panda’ – Early peeling red bark exposes grey and purple shades underneath.

Betula ‘Fascination’ – Deep orange, satin, peeling bark revealing layers of variable colour.

Betula ‘Fetisowii’ –  Peeling, cream chalk-white bark extends up the trunk.

Betula utilis ‘Snow Queen’ – Showy white, exfoliating bark develops it’s colour within three years.

Betula utilis ‘Wakehurst Place Chocolate’ – Chocolate bark in the early years changing to all shades of brown as it ages.

Castanea sativa

Castanea sativa

Also known as Spanish or Sweet Chestnut is a large, fast growing tree with a distinctive twisting bark on the more mature trees. Very important as a timber tree especially for traditional coppicing for railings.

Eucalyptus niphophila Ornamental Bark


Well known for its attractive flaking bark which can often be likened to Python skin. The peeling bark may expose colourful and interesting patterns on the trunk.

Eucalyptus gunnii – Evergreen tree with peeling, cream and brown bark. 

Eucalyptus johnstonii – Large tree with reddish peeling bark.

Eucalyptus pauciflora niphophila – Hardy, slow growing tree with flaking, cream, grey and green bark.

Eucalyptus perriniana – Small tree with smooth, flaking, cream, grey or green bark.

Fraxinus excelsior ‘Jaspidea’

Striking and vigorous variety of the common ash with beautiful golden yellow new shoots, set off by black buds. Although fast growing, it can be pruned hard (coppiced or pollarded) to control its size and enhance the golden yellow shoots in the winter.

Metasequoia glyptostroboides


Previously thought to be extinct until it was discovered in China in the late 1940’s. The orangery red bark turns darker shades as it matures becoming elongated, and deeply fissured.

Metasequoia glyptostroboides ‘Goldrush’ – A remarkable and lovely form with shaggy, soft, cinnamon bark.

Metasequoia glyptostroboides – A large tree of conical habit with soft, flaky, cinnamon bark.

Parrotia persica Ornamental Bark


Mature Parrotia persica trees provide year round interest. The older trunk and branches exfoliate in fine, scaly plates revealing cream, yellow and green colours.

Parrotia persica – Large shrub or small tree with grey flaking bark, especially decorative in mature trees.

Parrotia persica ‘Bella’ – Ornamental, flaking bark on mature trees.

Parrotia persica ‘Jodrell Bank’ – Small upright tree with flaking grey-brown bark.

Parrotia persica ‘Vanessa’ – A small, upright tree with attractive, flaking bark.

Platanus hispanica

Platanus x hispanica

A noble park and city tree with attractive, mottled or patchwork flaking bark and large palmate bright green leaves. Flowers are inconspicuous followed by rounded, bauble-like fruits hanging in clusters of two-four. Tolerates pruning and severe pollarding.


Though best known for their blossom, Prunus can have some stunning ornamental bark. You will often find some varieties top-worked onto serrula stems to provide the interesting bark with a wider range of flowers.

Prunus himalaica – Small tree of columnar habit with glossy, coppery purple trunk and peeling bark.

Prunus rufa – Small, round headed tree with peeling reddish brown and amber bark, and rusty hairy young shoots.

Prunus serrula – A special tree for all seasons with impressive glistening mahogany peeling bark. 

Prunus serrula ‘Branklyn’ – Grown for its polished red-brown mahogany, peeling bark. 

Prunus x schmittii – Medium sized, fast growing, narrow, conical tree with a polished brown trunk.


A perfect choice for adding some colour to a bare winter garden. Hard pruning in early spring is recommended with those grown for their striking colour. The below varieties will all produce impressive winter stems:

Salix alba ‘Golden Ness’ – Striking yellow stems. Narrow, lance shaped leaves and yellow catkins in spring.

Salix alba ‘Hutchinsons Yellow’ – Intense yellow winter stems. Prune hard to encourage best colour.

Salix alba vitellina ‘Britzensis’ – Compact, medium sized tree with scarlet-orange winter stems.

Salix alba vitellina ‘Yelverton’ – Rich bronze-red stems makes this form particularly worthwhile. 

Salix erythroflexuosa ‘Golden Curls’ – Orange-yellow twisted stems and leaves.

Sophora Gold Standard

Sophora japonica ‘Gold Standard’

Golden yellow stems contrast against the dark green main stem giving ornamental value in the winter. Foliage emerges with rich butter yellow tones before tuning to yellow-green.

Stewartia pseudocamelia


Related to the Camelia, Stewartias are striking flowering trees with good autumn colour. The below varieties are also well known for their attractive flaking bark when mature, which is red-brown and grey-pink underneath.

Stewartia pseudocamelia – Very attractive red-brown flaking bark. 

Stewartia rostrata – Rare large shrub/small tree with fiery autumn colour and handsome peeling bark.

Taxodium distichum

Taxodium distichum

A deciduous coniferous tree to 20m or more, with a conical crown, and fibrous red-brown bark. The feathery foliage is bright green, needle-like and turns bright orange in the autumn. Produces small, round seed cones that are purple when young. A classic for waterside planting. 

Tilia Ornamental Bark


As with Salix the below varieties are perfect in the winter, when the brightly coloured bare stems come into their own. Prune hard in March or April to encourage fresh bright growth.  

Tilia cordata ‘Winter Orange’ – A compact Lime with pronounced orange twigs and shoots in winter.

Tilia x europaea ‘Golden Sunset’® – Stunning, bright, coral red stems and buds through winter.

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