Shedding bark

Asked August 22, 2019, 10:40 AM EDT

I have what I believe is an ornamental pear tree; what variety, I have no idea. It has never produced fruit, nor has it ever produced any flowers in the spring. That being said, for the last two summer seasons, it has been shedding bark. As you can see in the picture, it is an otherwise very healthy-looking tree. Is the bark-shedding a normal process? perhaps with age? If I recall, the tree is likely around 20 y/o. Thank you for your assistance.

Kent County Michigan

5 Responses

Your tree sure looks like an American sycamore (Platinus occidentalis) to me or its cousin the London Plane Tree (Platanus × Acerifolia). That could explain why it's never bloomed or produced fruit! If the bark doesn’t nail down the ID of this tree for you, perhaps the many fruit balls that typically dangle from the branches will do it. Have you ever notice spiky seed balls dangling from your tree's limbs? Another way to ID the tree is by looking at the leaves. If they look similar to maple leaves but much larger, you have a sycamore tree.

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, sometimes 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 sycamore, redbud, silver maple, paperbark maple, shagbark hickory, birch, and lacebark 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. The loss of the outer layers of bark on sycamores is completely normal. No need to worry – the tree is not harmed by the peeling bark.

The thin, peeling bark is unmistakable, with patches of brown, green, gray, and white that resemble army camouflage. The bark is brittle and can’t accommodate the fast growth and annual diameter accruals of the trunk and branches, so it cracks and exfoliates. According to the United States Forest Service, low winter temperatures may injure the bark and cause excess sloughing. However, property owners who maintain their lawns and sidewalks know that the tree sheds bark year round and throughout its life.

Many trees have a different type of bark at the base of the trunk than they do at the younger, upper portion of the tree. The sycamore takes this to the extreme. At the base of the tree generally looks like “typical” gray bark. As you look up you’ll notice that the darker bark begins to flake off until finally it becomes nearly all white at the top of the tree. Toward the middle of the three, starting at about a third-way up the tree, the bark often appears “camouflaged” with various gray, brown, and green hues.

Having said all that, if your leaves do not resemble large maple leaves and you've never notices the seed balls, please send me some close-up photos of the leaves and bark and I will do further research.














Thank you for your thoughtful, detailed response, but I seriously doubt this is a sycamore; it produces absolutely nothing but leaves, which, as an aside, tend to hang on (though dead & brown) through our Michigan winters, basically not falling until the new leaf growth begins in the spring. I am attaching close-up photos of the leaves, as well as an upshot of the interior of the tree.

Thank you for your thoughtful, detailed response, but I seriously doubt this is a sycamore; it produces absolutely nothing but leaves, which, as an aside, tend to hang on (though dead & brown) through our Michigan winters, basically not falling until the new leaf growth begins in the spring. I am attaching close-up photos of the leaves, as well as an upshot of the interior of the tree.

You are absolutely right. Leaves appear to be those of a beech tree, which has smooth bark and holds its leaves through the winter. I have seen images of this appearance on both beech and gray birch trees but have never seen this in person.

It doesn't appear to be anything harmful to the tree. It doesn't resemble beech bark disease or white lichens. So.. I am still doing some investigating and will get back to you soon. Thank you for your patience.

I now have to confess that I had no clue what that tree is, but I did spend two days trying to figure it out. I finally got wise and asked Rebecca Finneran our Kent County Horticulture Educator. She knew immediately. I still have to admit that I've never heard of this tree which is native to Northern Iran and Caucaus.

Your tree, or likely in your case, large shrub is a Persian Parrotia (Parrotia percicaria). This tree is commonly called Persian Ironwood and is in the same family as witch hazels. Yocan see the similarities when you look at the apetalous blooms which occur in late winter like witch hazel blooms. Peeling, flaking bark reveals a patchwork of green, white and gray blotches. and is normal for this tree!

The information in the links below will give you information on your tree.