10 Wonderful Trees With White Bark
If you are looking for a tree with white bark for a garden, or trying to identify a tree that you have recently seen, this page is designed to help.
You will find:
- Birch trees (some of the many kinds)
- Aspen (sometimes called poplar)
- Cypress trees
- Whitebark pine
- Plane trees
- A few oddities...
Why Are These Trees so Popular?
Trees with white bark are always eye-catching. The trunks and branches of the White Birch (pictured above) stand out strongly in the shadow of woodland. In a garden, the white column of bark can be a wonderful contrast to the strong colors of flowers and foliage.
There are not many truly white barks in nature. In a lonely place and a special light, a white tree can have mystical overtones.
In some settings, a white tree can be downright scary, the whiteness evoking a memory of bones and death.
White Birch, Betula papyrifera
This is a North American native found across most of Canada and in the most northerly US states, including New England.
It is sometimes called the Canoe Birch because, in former times, the bark was used by Native Americans to create canoes.
The 'papyrifera' part of its Latin name means 'paper.' It was named this way because, often, the bark peels off in thin papery layers. Yet another name for this tree is the 'Paper Birch.'
European Birch, Betula pendula
Betular pendula is native to northern Europe but is grown as an ornamental tree in many parts of the US, and right across Europe and Asia.
In the UK, it is usually called the Silver Birch, and if you look at the picture below you can see why. As evening falls, the bark with its shiny, silver-like surface seems to glow like the precious metal.
Foresters sometimes call this tree the 'widow-maker' because any dead branches tend to rot quickly while the tree stands, then fall silently and unpredictably on unsuspecting heads.
Birch trees have been specially bred for ornamental purposes for over a hundred years.
Betula utilis jacquemontii has especially striking bark. It is very light-colored, almost white, and peels back naturally into thin paper-like layers.
This variety grows to a height of around 30 feet. It is tolerant of most soil types but does best in well-drained but moist soils.
Ermans's Birch (Betula ermanii) is native to Siberia, Northeast China, Korea and Japan.
It has a wonderful white or cream-colored bark and it has become a favorite starting point for new garden varieties.
'Polar Bear' is a dazzling white small ornamental tree.
The cultivar 'Grayswood Hill', pictured, is famous for its exceptionally smooth, and appealing bark.
This PDF has a list of the most common birch cultivars in the US and UK:
The Bayous of Louisiana and the Florida Everglades are the two places where you are most likely to come across Bald Cypress Trees (Taxodium distichum) in the US.
These can be real monsters with thousand-year old trunks that spread out at the roots to dance-floor diameters.
The bark of a Bald Cypress is not entirely white, but certainly light enough to give the trees an arresting presence.
There is some confusion around the word 'aspen'.
In the US, 'aspen' can be applied to almost any fast growing tree with light bark.
Having said that, for the most part, the name is applied to Populus species. So to keep things simple, I will keep this section down to members of that group, alone.
Outside of North America, Populus species trees are called 'poplars.'
American Aspen Populus tremuloides
The American Aspen is an iconic tree in Canada, New England and the Rocky Mountains, probably inspiring more photographs than any other.
In the fall, it produces spectacular displays as the leaves turn gold and shimmer in the breeze.
The trunk is slender, and tall, and the white bark stands out sharply against dark undergrowth.
How to Tell an Aspen from a Birch?
The American Aspen and the White Birch often grow in the same areas and they can easily be confused for each other. The leaves of Birch and Populus species are quite different. though, as you can see in the drawings below the video.
Another big clue is the way that the two trees react to wind.
The 'tremuloides' part of the American Aspen's Latin name describes the way that the leaves shiver or tremble at the lightest air movement, in a very characteristic way.
Birch trees are more robust and less prone to 'quake' in a light wind.
The University of Denver video, below, catches the fall display of the Aspen wonderfully well.
European (or Eurasian) Poplar Populus tremula
This tree is one of the most characteristic trees of Siberia and is found throughout Northern Europe, as far west as Iceland.
It is closely related to the American Aspen.
The bark tends more towards gray than pure white.
In the US, it is present as an invasive species.
Most species of Eucalyptus (often called gum trees, because of the sticky gum that oozes from the bark) have a characteristic grey/green mottled bark. Some species, though, like Eucalyptus perriniana and Eucalyptus mannifera, often used in landscaping, can have bone-white bark.
Eucalyptus trees are natives of Australia, but people, attracted by their unusual beauty and, commercial uses, have transplanted them far and wide.
The results can be seen in gardens around the world.
In some places, they have escaped from human cultivation, and now thrive in the wild.
This is especially so in California, where Blue Gum Trees (Eucalyptus globulus) have established themselves in many forests. A great deal of this is down to the efforts of a Santa Barbara rancher, Ellwood Cooper. In the 1870's he planted out 200 acres of Blue Gum and encouraged other people to do the same in his writings.
The beauty of the trees is very obvious, but nowadays it is understood that non-native species can have harmful effects on native plants and animals.
Whitebark Pine Pinus albicaulis
This grand, long-lived pine tree is found in the Western US and Canada, most especially in the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada.
It likes high altitudes, and, typically it is found at the tree line of mountains. Harsh conditions at these elevations often mean it is dwarfed and bedraggled in appearance.
In a more sheltered setting, the tree can grow to a height of sixty feet.
If you have ever visited London, you will have seen huge numbers of London Plane Trees (Platanus x acerifolia). This huge tree is a favorite ornamental and shade tree found in thousands of streets and parks. Partly it is admired for its bark, partly for its resilience in coping with an urban environment.
The Plane Tree has been extensively bred to grow well in the US, Asia and Australia.
Most species are monumental in size but a few are suitable for small gardens.
Questions & Answers
Where do you get London Plane trees?
If you want to buy a sapling, try this search: "buy Platanus acerifolia in ......." (wherever you happen to live). There might be a local nursery. You can get them through mail order companies, too. The Arborday Foundation sells them for around 15 dollars in the US.
Another (slower) option is to take cuttings or gather seeds from a specimen in your area.