Bark Paper

The sycamores are losing their bark. Arizona Sycamores, which grow in the Sky Island area South of Tucson, will grow in Phoenix if they get enough water. And the stand I walk through every morning is well watered and cared for.

sycamore3In the early summer, the bark of the sycamore splits and the tree looks old and damaged for a few weeks.

The bark of the tree lifts up, and the young bark underneath hardens. Once the bark underneath is ready to act as the tree’s skin, the top bark flakes off.

For someone from the East Coast, who is used to Birch trees, the sycamore shedding is very different. The bark is stiff and thicker than birch bark, and much more likely to split.

The newer bark is smooth and very pale, and the trees suddenly look taller and more elegant.


You can see both kinds of bark on one tree.

sycamore2The bark was lying around on the lawn, so I picked some up and took it home.

sycamore6I soaked one piece to make it pliable, then, once I could bend it and flatten it out, it went under the iron to heat, dry and flatten it. Then into the book press to keep it flat. It came out of the book press flat and smooth enough to write on.

Barkflat1You can see the difference in flatness and smoothness between the treated piece on top and the bark the way it was on the ground, bottom.

Barkwriting“What we are never changes, but who we are never stops changing. –Gil Grissom. The bark is smooth enough to write on, but it’s brittle. I tried to pierce holes in it to see if it could be stitched, but it’s too brittle.

Birch bark, peeled into layers.

Birch bark, peeled into layers.

Birch bark, on the other hand, is pliable and thin, and can be stitched. Birch bark also has the dark lines on it. Birch trees aren’t native to Arizona, they need a lot more water than even Northern Arizona has. Birch bark can be used as paper without any more treatment and has been used as paper in both India and Russia.

sycamore1For now, the sycamore bark will have to do as thick and inflexible writing slabs. Not as nice as Birch, but with rustic appeal.

Quinn McDonald is a naturalist and a journalist. No surprise she’s writing on tree bark.