5 Trees You Can Spot on a Winter Hike

There’s more to the outdoors in winter than cloudy skies and cold temperatures. Take a winter hike! Next time you bundle up to hit the trails, take a look at the nature around you. See if you can spy these five trees that show off some of the best features of their bark during winter.

Common Hackberry

The bark of a common hackberry tree.
(Click to enlarge photos.)
A close-up of a common hackberry tree. The tree bark has raised ridges.

Common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) is as the name says, a very common tree, and is easily identified by its thick and narrow ridges. In the close-up photo, you can see the layering on the tree bark. I call it the Grand Canyon tree.

Black Walnut

The bark of a black walnut tree.
(Click to enlarge photos.)
A portion of the bark from a Black Walnut tree has been removed. The inner layer shows a deep chocolate-brown color.

Another common tree, black walnuts (Juglans nigra) feature deep furrows in the bark. Take a closer look, and you will see a beautiful chocolate-brown coloring under the tree bark.

American Elm

American Elm tree
(Click to enlarge photos.)
A hand holds a section of bark from an American Elm tree. The colors of the bark alternate light tan to brown, back to light tan.

American elm (Ulmus Americana) trees are identified by their squishy feel and “ice cream sandwich” bark. When you peel the bark off, you can see the alternating light and dark layers, just like the colors of an ice cream sandwich. (Not a yummy treat though!)

Pin Oak

Pin Oak tree

Pin oaks (Quercus palustris) are easily identified by their dead lower branches. Most tree species self-prune as they grow, but pin oaks do not. I’ve also noticed the lower branches arch toward the ground, while the live upper branches arch up, giving the tree a very distinct shape.

Honey Locust

Several clusters of three-pronged thorns protrude from a honey locust tree. The thorn clusters are covered in patches of snow.
(Click to enlarge photos.)
Thorns grow out of a honey locust tree. Raindrops drip from the thorns.

The honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) can easily be identified with its ominous three-pronged thorns. While on your winter hike, look closely at a honey locust. The thorns only grow on the trunk and begin at 5 feet up from the base of the tree. Why? Evidently, the reason the honey locust’s thorn clusters grow so haphazardly is because they deterred mastodons.

Paul Seevers
Nature Interpreter, Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve