When I was hiking near Canada on the Long Trail last weekend, I saw a lot of beech trees in the woods. I've always loved their smooth silvery bark which is so different from the rough scaley bark of the other deciduous trees in New England like maples, cherries, ashes and oaks.
Upon further investigation, I learned that the thick bark of those other trees evolved to prevent them from overheating in winter sun when their leaf cover is gone. If they heat up too much, they can develop frost cracks when the sun goes down, that introduce diseases and other forest pathogens into the center of the tree. To prevent these cracks, maples, cherries, ashes and oaks developed rough textured bark that has a larger surface area and dissipates heat buildup when the winter sunlight hits them.
The beech, like the birch and aspen, evolved a different adaption to prevent winter overheating, namely lightly colored bark. But the smooth bark of the beech has a second function which is to thwart the growth of mosses or ferns on their branches which could break them if they mass too densely. This adaption originally occurred in the tropics, when the American Beech's ancestors, the family of Fagaceae trees, developed this capability.
That's why the bark of the American Beech tree is smooth, while the bark of most other New England trees is thick and rough.
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