February 28

Winter Bark

One of the pleasures of winter is seeing trees in their starkness, when the shape and character of their branches, their buds, their seedheads, and the pattern of their bark are all beautifully revealed. Three ornamental trees at Duck Hill–the kousa dogwood, the Persian parrotia, and Stewartia pseudocamellia–heralded for their gorgeous flowers or handsome leaves and brilliant fall color, have trunks that are astonishing to see this time of year because of exfoliation. As the trees age, some of the bark peels away resulting in mottled patchworks of gray, cream, orange and tan.

The stewartia, though not native here, is one of my favorite small trees. It is pyramidal in shape, rather prim in its youth, but with age its branches relax and stretch out gracefully, so be sure to give it plenty of room. (I have not!) It has lustrous leaves and in early June is covered with white camellia-like flowers that open from fat round buds like tiny balloons. The flowering continues for several weeks. In autumn the tree begins to turn color until it is ablaze with orange and red. A beauty in every season.