How to Identify Hardwood Trees by Bark?

How to Identify Hardwood Trees by Bark

Sometimes, the tree leaves and shapes seem so similar that you can hardly identify trees by their leaves. And taking a snap of the tree to search for its species online can be hectic. In such cases, tree bark can be your savior. They can help you trace tree families. But how to identify hardwood trees by bark?

The prime process includes observing the color and texture and taking the smell of the bark. But what if two tree bark still seem similar? Well, here, I have figured out the ways as well for your convenience, stay tuned! 

Can You Identify Trees By Their Bark? 

The easy way to identify and distinguish between different types of tree species is by bark observation. Barks of varying trees have unique characteristics, which makes it feasible to identify plants by bark. 

How to Identify Hardwood Trees by Bark

There are field guides or books available on bark characteristics. You can get hold of those and understand how tree identification works. 

How to Identify Hardwood Trees by Bark?

As all hardwood trees have broad leaves and covered seeds, it gets confusing to distinguish them. So, to identify them, you can take a close look at their bark from different angles. Here are the detailed process with tried and tested steps to do so:

Step 1: Observe the Color 

At first glance, all hardwood tree bark will seem brownish. But upon meticulous observation, you will notice that they have numerous shades throughout their bark. 

How to Identify Hardwood Trees by Bark

For example, oak tree bark’s color ranges from light gray to black. But confusion arises when two tree bark looks similar in color. As the Beech trees also share light gray bark like oak trees, you may mistake one tree for the other.  At this point, follow the next step.

Step 2: Check Ridges and Furrows 

Ridges are the raised vertical lines formed on the outer trunk of the trees. And in between these ridges, there will be gaps or deep spaces known as furrows. These ridges and furrows are not the same across all trees. 

How to Identify Hardwood Trees by Bark

The Northern Oak trees have integrated ridges. It means you will not find the vertical lines divided into several units. Instead, throughout the bark, these ridges form in unison.

On the flip side, White Oak ridges will appear broken. Hence, they seem as if these are short vertical lines you’ve cut from the middle.

Step 3: Look for Scales 

If the particular trees you are observing do not have ridges, they may have scales. These scales look like cracks on the outer layer of the ark. Black birch trees have thick scales, while pine and spruce trees have even–looking scales.

Step 4: Identify the Pores

Pores or lenticels of the trees aid in transferring carbon dioxide and oxygen through the bark. You will notice these pores on all trees, but their shape and size vary. Ensure to watch the video to understand lenticels:

How to Identify Hardwood Trees by Bark

Some hardwood trees, like Bigtooth Aspens, have diamond-shaped pores. And they are more visible than any other trees. Also, in some trees, these lenticels form in the shape of vertical lines. If you notice black horizontal lines on the outer bark layer, it means that this is a Birch tree. 

Step 5: Notice the Peeling Bark 

Trees with peeling bark can be pretty much deceptive to identify. Because there is a high probability that many will assume the tree is dying as the bark is peeling off the trunk. 

How to Identify Hardwood Trees by Bark

But trees such as maple, sycamore, and birch cause the outer layer of the trunk to peel off to form a new layer of bark. So, you will notice curly strips of bark hanging from the trunk of these plants. 

Step 6: Smell the Bark 

The idea of smelling a tree might seem funny, but guess what? It gives away hints on identifying trees. As per the National Park Service, Ponderosa pine bark smells sweet. 

And the Sassafras tree bark releases a cinnamon odor. If you have permission to make a slit on the bark, do so to smell the distinct odor of various trees. 

How to Identify Hardwood Trees by Bark Texture?

Not all trees have the same texture in their outer base or trunk. You can prominently feel it once you touch the varying trunks. Also, you can rub the bark to distinguish and identify trees. Here are the steps to do so:

How to Identify Hardwood Trees by Bark

  • First, take a jumbo-sized crayon and peel off its paper wrap. 

  • Place a white A4-sized paper against the bark of a tree. 

  • Hold the paper with one hand or use adhesive tape to stick the paper. 

  • Now, rub the side of the crayon all over the paper.

  • If you see no lines forming on the paper, apply a little pressure while rubbing. 

  • Let’s repeat the process for numerous trees. 

  • Gather the papers together and see how the formed lines are different from each other. 

Red maple and American Beech trees will form unbroken lines as their bark texture is smooth. Other trees will form broken lines as they have uneven bark.


You will no longer need a field guidebook or expert to determine tree species once you know how to identify hardwood trees by bark. Initially, it may seem confusing to distinguish the similar-looking bark. But as you observe the bark more often, you will find out their unique detailing. 

However, if you want, feel free to explore websites and apps that will help you understand bark characteristics. I’d recommend heading to the iNaturalist site for that.

Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q’s):

What does tree bark look like on Hardwood trees?

Tree barks seem similar from a distance. They look like thick surfaces on the trunk of the Hardwood trees. But from a close look, they will seem smoother or have rough layers of wood. 

Can tree bark have unusual characteristics?

Yes, some trees can have unusual and different characteristics. Honey locust trees have thorns on their bark. And Hercules Club plants form tubercles on their trunk.  

Can Hardwood tree bark change as they age?

All species of tree bark transform as they age. Young tree bark is smoother and even in texture. And ancient trees may consist of peeling bark. 

Md Biajid

Meet Mia Biajid, a passionate nature lover. Particularly, he has a deep-rooted connection to the plant. Mia loves to spend time exploring forests and uncovering the secrets held within trees. He always inspires others to appreciate and protect our precious part of the ecosystem.

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