If You See Paint on Trees, This Is What It Means

Whether you’re walking along a city sidewalk or hiking deep in the forest, you might occasionally notice paint marks on tree trunks. Those paint marks are codes used by forestry workers and contractors to pass along a range of messages, from which trees to chop down to which ones need treatment for disease. All cities have codes for marking trees. When you see a dot at the base of a tree, that signifies that it needs treatment for a specific tree disease. Paint dots at the head height means the tree needs pruning. Paint in the forest, however, has to do with timber sale. Circles, Xs, and dots in various colors identify which trees are to be cut, which ones are hazards, and which ones should be left alone. They also mark property boundaries and environmental concerns. In some places, trees with nests of rare or endangered species are marked, normally with a white paint ring. When the entire lower trunk of a tree is painted white, it’s usually to prevent sun-scald. Sun-scald happens in winter when bark cracks and splits due to temperature fluctuations between cold nights and direct sunlight. It not only damages the tree, but it can make it susceptible to pests and pathogens. Colors and markings vary from town to town, so if you’re really interested in what’s happening where you live, the best place to start is with your town forestry department.