Shedding bark on some trees is a completely normal development. The bark of most young trees is smooth and thin. As the tree grows, the bark layer thickens with the outermost tissue eventually dying. Continued growth pushes the bark outward, causing the outer layers to crack. On some trees, the outer dead layers peel and drop off, revealing the inner layers of bark. Shedding or peeling bark is characteristic of trees such as the sycamore, redbud, silver maple, shagbark hickory, birch, and Scotch pine. The grayish brown bark on a large sycamore tree, for example, flakes off in irregular blotches revealing a cream or whitish gray inner bark. This summer the sycamores have lost larger than normal amounts of bark. The dry fall and record cold of last winter may have loosened more bark than normal leading to the heavy loss of bark. Despite the loss of large amounts of outer bark, there is no cause for concern as the sycamore trees appear to be healthy. On older redbuds, the outer bark on the trunk often falls off revealing orangish-brown inner bark. Long, thin strips of bark may also come off large silver maples.
Cracking and peeling of bark on the south or southwest sides of young fruit trees, red maples, and lindens often indicate a serious problem. Often attributed to sunscald, the damaged bark comes off completely down to the wood. The loss of bark will reduce the vigor and health of the tree and possibly shorten its life. If the trunk eventually becomes completely girdled, the tree will die. Unfortunately, not much can be done to help trees with damaged bark. There is no scientific evidence showing tree wraps prevent sunscald damage. All the loose bark can be carefully removed. However, wound dressings or tree paints are of no benefit.
This article originally appeared in the August 9, 1996 issue, p. 129.