Tree Bark Mysteriously Defaced

Asked December 26, 2017, 10:42 PM EST

I was walking in the woods near my house and noticed bark trimmed off a tree. It looked like a buck rubbing with their antlers, but it was up high, about 10 feet. A couple weeks later, I was in my back yard and noticed the same thing on one of my trees (see attached pictures). Can someone please help me figure out what is going on? Thanks!

Montgomery County Maryland

3 Responses

Judging from the bark pattern, this may be an ash tree. If so, it's likely that it is infected with emerald ash borer, on which the woodpeckers are feeding. The chunks of bark looks like just such feeding. A close look seems to show a borer hole in the trunk where the bark is removed. This woodpecker impact is being seen and reported more and more.

Emerald ash borer is a non-native invasive insect which has killed many millions of ash trees in the U.S. They are lethal to ashes unless pesticides are applied to the tree with no end in sight. Unless this is an extremely valuable ash tree, we recommend removal and replanting with another native species of tree.

Here is much more information about EAB:

Because dead ash trees become very brittle and hazardous as soon as they die, and their removal can become more expensive, you may want to remove it before it dies or immediately thereafter.


I thought it was a Poplar tree. I have several in my yard so I just assumed it was Poplar. Either way, removal is suggested?

The removal suggestion above was for an ash with EAB.

No matter what species it is, it is displaying a lot of woodpecker activity, which suggests borers. Keep an eye on the tree. How does it leaf out next spring? Is there dieback or a lot of dead wood? Get a positive id of the tree species. There are many kinds of borers that infest many species of trees. We can't determine from your photo exactly what the outcome will be, except that the tree is attracting much woodpecker activity.