Loose Tree Bark

Asked July 2, 2016, 5:45 PM EDT

I have a silver maple tree that is about 20 years old, about 30' high with about a 15" diameter near the ground. A few weeks ago, I noticed that a large piece of bark - see attached photos - perhaps H=18" x W=8" starting at about 5" above the ground was protruding from the tree and looked close to coming off, thus exposing a large area on the unprotected trunk. There also appeared to be a number of ants (but not a swarm) along the edges of the bark. (I didn't pull the loose bark off to inspect what was behind it.). More recently, the piece of bark is protruding less, but there are still a number of vertical fissures, perhaps 1" - 2" wide, that expose non-bark areas. What do you recommend that I do about this - let it be, because occasional bark loss occurs? take some action on the bark-impacted area that you would recommend to me? call in a tree expert and get a bank loan to pay his/her fee? or what?? I have never done an upload before so I don't know if you can view my photos; if you can't, please send me your e-mail address so I can send attachments to you. Thank you so much for your help...Matthew

Howard County Maryland

3 Responses

Your tree is suffering from girdling roots which may be the principle factor in the bark's problem. Girdling roots will actually strangle the tree and cut off the flow of water and nutrients to the canopy. The bark is sloughing off because the cambium layer below it has been compromised. As you may know, the cambium layer is the only living part of the tree and is situated immediately under the bark. As the tree grows, last year's cambium layer dies and becomes part of the heartwood. The tree's vascular system constitutes the cambium layer, so it would be expected that some portion of the canopy above the wound will be showing some dieback or other symptoms.
It also appears that there is either a foreign object at the base of the tree beneath the wounded area, or there has been some damage to the root that extends outward from that side of the tree. The right angles may be deceptive, but at first, it appeared to be a concrete block that had invaded the tree's bark as the tree grew around it.
At any rate, there is nothing that can be done at this point. The tree may isolate the wound and continue to live for many years to come. It is important that you monitor the tree periodically for any signs of interior rotting. Typically, you would see mushrooms popping up from the base of the tree. This would indicate that the heartwood is rotting and the integrity of the tree would be compromised.
If you are concerned about the overall health and integrity of the tree, you could have a certified arborist examine the tree. You can find a certified arborist in your area by going to the following website: www.treesaregood.org. This is the website of the International Society of Arboriculture, the certifying agency for all arborists.

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my loose bark question. But I guess that I'm somewhat confused. You state in your response that "...there is nothing that can be done at this point." But then you suggest that I could consult with a certified arborist. Is there a reasonable chance he/she could solve the problem to save the tree from this problem (and therefore justify the expense of his/her consultation and subsequent corrective actions)? Could you please clarify that for me? Thank you. ...Matthew

While it is sometimes possible to cut girdling roots before they cause a serious problem, success is problematic when the tree reaches a certain maturity.
If the tree is important to you it would be appropriate for you to have a professional perform an on-site inspection.