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Using Bark Characteristics in the Identification of Australian Tree Species

This web page describes different bark types to assist in the identification of native Australian tree species. The permanent presence and easy accessibility of bark is an advantage when using bark features in classification. With some exceptions, bark features should be matched with other vegetative characteristics, such as leaf and fruit characteristics, in order to correctly identify a native tree or shrub in its natural habitat. Using detailed illustrations, pictures and a comprehensive language the different attributes of bark are explained on the web page below. (Last updated November 2018)
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Bark Colour & Visual Appearance

For a limited number of trees, bark colour alone can be a reliable identification characteristic. But in many instances, bark colour can greatly vary and is dependent on factors such as the age of the specimen and moisture content present. Furthermore, bark often goes through a colour transformation throughout its development (aging) and before shedding (1). Visual clues include unique criss-cross pattern (2), scribbles caused by insects (3), horizontal banding (4), fissures (5), vertical or horizontal ridges, wrinkles (6), scrolls, burls, the presence of lenticels (small rounded wart-like protrusions) and scales. If scales have a roughly square-shaped appearance, the bark type is referred to as being tessellated. Evidence of white or yellow sap (7), a typical trait of Fig Trees (Ficus spp.) or resin (kino) excreted from the bark of Bloodwood Trees (Corymbia spp.) (8) are helpful identification features. The presence of crust forming lichen can obscure colour and appearance of bark.

Phyton Tree Gossia bidwillii
(1) Phyton Tree Gossia bidwillii: glossy green, turning brown before shedding
Grey Myrtle Backhousia myrtifolia
(2) Grey Myrtle Backhousia myrtifolia: reddish-brown (fresh bark), weathering to grey, criss-cross pattern
Scribbly Gum Eucalyptus signata
(3) Scribbly Gum Eucalyptus signata: whitish-grey with yellow hues, scribbles caused by insects
Bunja Pine Araucaria bidwillii
(4) Bunja Pine Araucaria bidwillii: brown, horizontal banding

Coastal Cypress Pine Callitris columellaris
(5) Coastal Cypress Pine Callitris columellaris: charcoal grey to black, fissured
Lacebark Tree Brachychiton discolor
(6) Lacebark Tree Brachychiton discolor: light green, wrinkles and fine fissures
Moreton Bay Fig Ficus macrophylla
(7) Moreton Bay Fig Ficus macrophylla: shades of grey, traces of white sap, horizontal ridges
Pink Bloodwood Corymbia intermedia
(8) Pink Bloodwood Corymbia intermedia: greyish-brown, excreting resin, scaly
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How to recognise Australian tree families and genera.
A practical field guide to the identification of native species. More than 200 full colour photographs and detailed descriptions explaining leaf, bark, flower, fruit and other tree characteristics.
New Holland Publishers
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Pages: 128 pp.
Size: 13 cm wide x 18 cm high

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Bark Texture & Consistency

Bark texture ranges from the very smooth (polished-like) to the sharp roughness of tessellated (scaly) or fissured surfaces. A finely rough texture is referred to as granular. The term fissured relates to finer cracks, whereas being furrowed depicts wider grooves. The description stringy is used for bark that has a fibrous (rough rope-like) quality and can be pulled apart into strings. The aptly named Stringybarks (Eucalyptus spp.) are good examples. The quality of being flaky and papery is a common feature for the Paperbarks (Melaleuca spp.). Bark texture often changes with age and can be considerably different on the trunk when compared to branches. Bark texture is perceived visually and by touch. From soft to very hard, consistency is perceived when bark is pressed. Terms like corky, spongy, softly fibrous, firm and very hard express degrees of consistency. These bark qualities are reflected in tree names such as Soft Corkwood (Ackama paniculata) or Ironbarks (Eucalyptus spp.), on the opposite side of the scale. Consistency can depend on moisture levels present in the bark, e. g. hard and brittle when dry, spongy and crumbly when wet.

Sydney Blue Gum Eucalyptus signata
(1) Sydney Blue Gum Eucalyptus signata: very smooth, grey with bluish hue and streaks, shedding in strips
Grey Gum Eucalyptus propinqua
(2) Grey Gum Eucalyptus propinqua: light grey and smooth when fresh, granular and dark grey when shedding
Bark of Red Cedar Toona ciliata
(3) Red Cedar Toona ciliata: rough and scaly, shedding in irregular shaped flakes
Burown Damson Terminalia arenicola
(4) Brown Damson Terminalia arenicola: rough, tessellated


Thin-leaved Stringybark Eucalyptus eugenioides
(5) Thin-leaved Stringybark Eucalyptus eugenioides: rough, fissured, fibrous and stringy
Long-leaved Paperbark Melaleuca leucadendra
(6) Long-leaved Paperbark Melaleuca leucadendra: smooth, thin layers of papery bark
Soft Corkwood Ackama paniculata
(7) Soft Corkwood Ackama paniculata: soft, corky and furrowed

Grey Ironbark Eucalyptus paniculata
(8) Grey Ironbark Eucalyptus paniculata: very hard, rough and deeply furrowed

Scented Bark

A specific scent, emitted when bark is rubbed, can enable the positive identification of some tree species. This is reflected in the common naming of trees such as; the Celerywood (Polyscias elegans) (1), Onion Cedar (Owenia cepiodora) (2), Sassafras (3), the Peppermints (a group of Eucalyptus spp.) (4) and a range of other species.

Celery Wood Polyscias elegans
(1) Celery Wood Polyscias elegans: celery-scented, brownish grey, rough, fissured and firm
Onion Cedar Owenia cepiodora
(2) Onion Cedar Owenia cepiodora: onion-scented, grey, wrinkled, finely rough and firm
Bark of Olivers Sassafras Cinnamomum oliveri
(3) Olivers Sassafras Cinnamomum oliveri: scented, grey to pale brown, smooth or finely rough, fine ridges and blisters
Narrow-leaved Peppermint Eucalyptus radiata
(4) Narrow-leaved Peppermint Eucalyptus radiata: scented, brown weathering to grey, rough, softly fibrous and flaky


Bark Thickness & Two-type Barks

With exceptions, most rainforest trees feature a thin bark that is constantly shed in small particles and doesn’t protect the vital cambium from heat exposure (1). Consequently rainforest trees are killed by a high intensity bushfire. In contrast tree species, which inhabit flammable environments, such as Eucalypts, Paperbarks (Melaleuca spp.), Bottlebrushes (Callistemon spp.) and Tea Trees (Leptospermum spp.) (2) produce a thick bark that offers protection from fires. The bark thickness of these trees increases with age, as most of the old dead bark is retained. The thickness of bark is often hard to judge, but fissures and furrows can give some indication.

Trees producing bark of different types are a common occurrence in the transition zones (ecotones) between rainforests and drier open forests. In these and other environments, which are infrequently exposed to lower intensity fires, a stocking of thick rough bark on the lower part of the trunk is sufficient in protecting the tree from damage. The upper half of the trunk, limbs and branches are covered in a contrasting thinner and smooth bark, which is not retained and often sheds in strips or plates. The Brush Box (Lophostemon confertus) (3) and a number of Eucalyptus [Corymbia] species; Flooded Gum (E. grandis), Cadaghi (C. torelliana) (4), Carbeen (C. tessellaris) and the Shining Gum (Eucalyptus nitens) are good examples.

Bark of Brush Apple, Mischocarpus pyriformis
(1) Brush Apple Mischocarpus pyriformis: thin, colour obscured by lichen, smooth to finely rough and wrinkled
Bark of Coastal Tea Tree, Leptospermum laevigatum
(2) Coastal Tea Tree Leptospermum laevigatum: thick, brownish grey, rough, spongy, fibrous and fissured
Bark of Brushbox, Lophostemon confertus
(3) Brush Box Lophostemon confertus: lower trunk; thick, rough, stringy and flaky, upper; smooth and firm
Cadaghi Bark, Corymbia torreliana
(4) Cadaghi Corymbia torelliana: lower trunk; thick, rough, scaly and spongy, upper; smooth and firm