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Don't ignore the winter beauty of your backyard
Consider the winter beauty of trees

 The gray, tight-barked Carpinus carolinia is called 'muscle wood' because of its sinewy appearance.
Visit the Photo Place
Date published: 1/4/2013

Adam Downing is an agent in Virginia Cooperative Extension's Madison County office, specializing in forestry and natural resources. Phone 540/948-6881; fax 540/948-6883; email
Email: adowning@vt.edu.

WINTER IS generally regarded as a gray, bleak time of year. Green, the color of life, is notably absent from many of our surroundings at this time of year. Yet, the beauty of trees' other features and colors is revealed to discerning eyes in shades of gray, silhouettes of angles, arrays of branch architecture and varied textures cloaked in green most of the year.


Let's start with bark. Every tree species has unique bark and some have particularly interesting bark to add appeal all year around. The most commonly listed "interesting bark" species are those with exfoliating bark such as sycamore, lace-bark elm and crape myrtle.

In addition to these, I would add one of my favorite tight-barked trees, "Carpinus carolinia. This tree's bark is gray like beech but sinewy, like the arm of a body builder, thus the common name I like to refer to it by--"muscle wood." For these bark interest trees, the appeal generally increases with the size of the trunk so you can enjoy it a little more each year.

Angles and silhouettes

The angles of branch attachment to trunk or parent branch is a virtual study in trigonometry, architecture and physics all in one. Consider the branch weight as it extends outward from its point of attachment and the leverage dynamics exerted on that attachment. Then notice how varied the branch angles are within a given tree, and how certain species have different branching habits.

For example, a blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica) has nearly right-angle branch attachments. Furthermore, blackgum is a stickler for hierarchy. The relative branch size to the parent branch it's attached to is well-ordered. To find a branch off another branch about the same size would be a rare find.

To find such similarly sized branches on a maple, however, is commonplace. The epitome of this is a branch that becomes almost as big as the trunk to which it is attached.

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