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Plane Tree Shedding Bark: Is Plane Tree Bark Loss Normal

Plane Tree Shedding Bark: Is Plane Tree Bark Loss Normal


By: Tonya Barnett, (Author of FRESHCUTKY)

The choice to plant shade trees in the landscape is an easy one for many homeowners. Whether hoping to provide much needed shade during the hottest months of summer or wishing to create habitat for native wildlife, the establishment of mature shade trees can be a lifelong process that requires the investment of quite a bit of time, money, and patience. With this in mind, it is easy to imagine why growers may become alarmed when mature shade trees begin showing signs of perceived distress in the form of bark loss, as in the case of bark coming off plane trees.

Why is My Plane Tree Losing Bark?

The sudden or unexpected loss of bark in mature trees can be quite the cause for concern for many homeowners. Commonly used in landscaping and along busy city streets, one specific variety of tree, the London plane tree, is known for its habit of drastic bark shed. In fact, the London plane tree, as well as others such as the sycamore and some types of maples, will shed their bark at varying rates.

While the amount of shed from the trees each season is unpredictable, bark coming off plane trees during heavy shed seasons may lead growers to believe that their trees have become diseased or that something is seriously wrong. Luckily, in many cases, plane tree bark loss is a completely natural process and does not warrant any cause for concern.

While there are several theories as to why plane tree bark shedding occurs, the most commonly accepted cause is that the bark falling off plane tree is simply the process of old bark removal as a means to make way for new and developing layers. Additional theories suggest that bark drop may be the tree’s natural defense against invading parasites and fungal diseases.

Whatever the cause may be, bark shed alone is not cause for concern for home gardeners.

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Diseases

The important symptoms and characteristics of individual trees can be found in the index of deciduous trees.
Apart from tree diseases that affect the leaves, trees can also be affected by pests, fungi diseases and other damages.

Abiotic damage

Hail, high winds, frost, dry spells, etc. can damage a tree. The appearance of these damages can be numerous (dried leaves, cracked bark, broken limbs). Parasites can attack the host plant in these damaged areas.

If ants are prevalent at the base of the trunk and if there is saw dust coming from the trunk, then this indicates damage to the tree. Ant colonies can be expected in the trunk as they search for a cavity or tree rot for a new home. The tree should be watched carefully because the foothold could be in danger.

Aphides

Aphides affect almost all trees. They deplete the leaves of nutrients and pollute them with their excretion, known as honeydew. Over 800 species exist throughout central Europe. Normally, aphides are not harmful for the tree.

Frost Cracks

Frost cracks form because of high temperature fluctuations from the trunk center to the outside. The tree forms frost strips caused by the overlapping of bark (see photos). The crack runs almost vertical. The same affect is seen from cracks made by the sun. Should the tree show a weakening vitality, it should be evaluated. Images of a frost crack

Fungi | Mushrooms

Fungi with the hypha (mycelia), fungi diseases penetrate the wood and deplete the wood of nutrients, most importantly cellulose, polysaccharide, lignin, minerals, carbohydrates, lipids and protein. If the tree is affected then it should be evaluated. More about tree fungi.


  • Leaf arrangement: alternate
  • Leaf type: even-pinnately compound, odd-pinnately compound
  • Leaflet margin: lobed, incised, serrate
  • Leaflet shape: oblong, ovate
  • Leaflet venation: pinnate
  • Leaf type and persistence: deciduous
  • Leaflet blade length: 2 to 4 inches, less than 2 inches
  • Leaf color: green
  • Fall color: vivid fall color
  • Flower color and characteristics: yellow and vivid, summer flowering

Golden rain-tree bark is thin and easily damaged from mechanical impact. Limbs droop as the tree grows, so they will require pruning for vehicular or pedestrian clearance beneath the canopy. Rain-trees should be grown with a single leader. There is some pruning required to develop a strong structure. Rain-tree has some resistance to breakage.


Behold, the beautiful, but problematic sycamore tree

Sycamore trees rhrive in wet environments such as the edges of rivers. (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Among winter’s dark, craggy silhouettes, one tree stands pure white against a blue sky with branches like bleached bones.

Visible from a distance, the sycamore commands the dreary landscape by shedding its bark as it ages and spreading an albino canopy into the heights. It’s striking and beautiful, but won’t convince the sycamore haters to change their minds.

Michael Dirr, author of “The Manual of Woody Landscape Plants,” says of the American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis): in "a native situation, especially along water courses, it’s an impressive sight in the landscape. If native to an area do not remove however do not plant it.”

Dirr explains that the tree, which thrives along streams and in low-lying areas, is problematic in a suburban location because of the very thing that creates its lovely silhouette – shedding bark. Not only that, but the dangling seed pods that hang this time of year like Christmas decorations from its branches, cause havoc when they finally fall in profusion.

Dirr uses the example of a neighbor’s tree that “was forever dropping part of its anatomy” onto his property, a problem he tried to solve by removing the overhanging branches. Gorgeous, but not in my back yard, seems the summation.

I don’t have any sycamores on my property, so I can afford to admire them. They line my route to work along the Kennett Pike where their huge, gnarled trunks appear at nearly regular intervals for miles at a time in Delaware.

They comprised a botanical “string of pearls,” a 10-mile stretch of trees planted by P.S. DuPont for his wife, Alice, in the 1920s, along the Pike. DuPont had bought out all shares of the toll road in 1919, and spent a year and a half renovating and improving it before selling it back to the Department of Transportation for $1.

At his wife’s behest, he planted sycamores, elms and oaks on properties lining the route and of all, the sycamores are the most easily identifiable nearly 100 years later.

Sycamores are generally regarded as the most massive tree indigenous to eastern North America, growing 75-100 feet with horizontal branching and a rounded habit. Trunk diameter typically ranges from 3 to 8 feet. Native to lowland areas, growing along streams, rivers and flood plains, its signature feature is the brown bark that exfoliates in irregular pieces to reveal the white inner bark. Often, the patterns and colors made by the dropping bark paint the lower trunk like camouflage as the upper branches strip off completely.

The leaves are huge, the size of your head, and the woods where I walk are littered with them right now. In summer they obscure the bark and create a dense shade. For this reason, the London plane tree (Platanus x acerifolia), a hybrid of the American sycamore and the Oriental Plane (Platanus orientalis) was planted extensively in the United States as an urban street tree. In London of the 1800’s, it proved remarkably sturdy, thriving in the thick industrial soot that often blanketed the city. Seemingly impervious to air pollution, it is still buckling sidewalks worldwide.

Shedding bark, raining seed pods and lifting sidewalks aren’t the last of its detractions. Sycamores are notoriously prone to anthracnose, a disease which can cause massive leaf drop in early summer. Usually a cosmetic rather than life-threatening affliction for the tree, it generally re-foliates in short order.

As if that weren’t enough, sycamores are prone to heartwood rot. Like so many of its drawbacks, this, too is a double-edged sword. Wildlife exploits sycamores for shelter, with cavity nesting birds like chimney swifts, owls, and wood ducks taking up residence.

With winter closing in (really, it will be here any day), I’ll enjoy the chalk-white branches that appear in the woodlands or stand alone on windy hillsides. They deserve our admiration, however grudging it may be.

Moira Sheridan is a Wilmington freelance writer and gardener. She is a graduate of the University of Delaware’s Master Gardener program. Reach her at [email protected]

To do list

• Do not panic at: bulbs emerging, cherry trees flowering, forsythia popping out, etc. Humans are chaotic and disordered nature always follows a plan. Winter, then spring will come. All will be well.

• Take advantage of the warm weather to do tasks you’ve procrastinated until now, like planting spring-flowering bulbs, clearing away weeds and debris from garden beds, mulching with leaves, etc.

• Inspect indoor citrus for insect pests and clean off affected leaves. Remember to rotate houseplants for even light exposure.

•Pick up fallen branches and make a stick pile for wildlife. Birds love to alight on branches near a feeder so they can make a quick getaway.


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