Monday, November 18, 2013

Fall Colors

Red maples can be spectacular in the fall. Their colors range in from glowing golden yellow to purest red, with most here on the farm changing first to yellow and then orange and ending with red highlights. I see some young pure red ones around here, but no large ones (although I've seen pure red fall color on mature wild red maples elsewhere), so I have to wonder if those are not as vigorous as the others. At their best red maples are just about as spectacular as the famed sugar maple. They are enthusiastic pioneer trees that seed everywhere and grow like weeds. The wild trees are sensitive to moisture levels when it comes to fall color though, and in dry year they can be blah. In a year with good rain like this year they are BEAUTIFUL. I love them with the caveat that the seeds, bark and wilted and fallen leaves of red maples are poisonous to horses. If a horse consumes more than a pound of wilted or dried leaves, a toxin reaches levels that result in the death of red blood cells. The toxin remains in the leaves for a month after falling from the tree. Now a pound is a lot of red maples leaves, and with good grass a horse won't eat them; however, if a pasture is surrounded by red maples and the pasture is coated with the leaves, a horse may still end up consuming quite a few. I don't want to take that chance so the red maples were removed from around the pastures many years ago. We still have lots of red maples though, as the majority of our land remains woods.

Red Maples with a young Ironwood (Carpinus caroliniana), bottom left

Ironwood has great fall color. It grows everywhere on the farm as an understory tree.

A red maple turning apricot, a week ago.

These golden Red Maples were along a path that runs along a property line we hadn't walked in a while.

I was surprised to see Sorrel Trees all along the path. Somehow I had missed them before, and what were they doing down here? See the pale pink trees in the distance? Those are Sorrel Trees. The ones in deep shade turned a ghostly cream/yellow/pink.

This one standing in a sunbeam turned a beautiful scarlet with perfect leaves, unlike the spotted ones near the house.

The sweet pepperbush in shade likewise turned a pale, almost transparent yellow.

Sweet Pepperbush turns gold with more sun. These are west of the old house site. All of it wild. Once the leaves turn gold they don't last that long, with the leaves either freezing or blowing off, but the show is impressive while it lasts.

On the banks of the ditch behind the big perennial bed.

I have been drooling over roadside Sassafras in full sun that are gorgeous shades of orange and red. We have one wild good-sized Sassafras and one only, and it's in the shade, but its butterscotch-colored leaves always catch the eye in the fall.

Poison ivy may be annoying and even downright evil, but it does have nice color often ending up deep burnished shades of red and burgundy in sun and shimmering gold in the shade.

The young Shining Sumacs outdid themselves this year. I have a baby Smooth Sumac that I grew from seed and I'm trying to figure out where to plant it, as it likes drier soils and it needs to be in a place where I won't mind it suckering.

Most of our big trees are Red Maples, Sweetgums, and Loblolly Pines, with the occasional Blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica) which always stands out. The leaves look like they've been painted with a shiny dark red lacquer.
One year the bright fire engine red leaves of the Swamp Tupelos (Nyssa aquatica) drew me down to the slough near the creek. I'm not sure that they color every year but when they do they are like a flame. They are big trees that grow right in the water and have larger leaves than Blackgums.

I don't recall our hickories having fall color before, although they probably did after Floyd in 1999. Everything had unbelievable color that year. This year they turned a lovely gold. I am not sure which species they are or if the two below are the same species.

The leaves of this tree look like the drawing of White Hickory in Dirr's Manual.

Hickories and Hubricht's Amsonia would make a great combination, although they don't grow together in my garden. It took a while for this plant to put on a show in the fall, but it surely does now. As I wrote in an earlier post I didn't use to love Amsonia. In the past few years I have been converted and see the light. What's not to love? Vanilla-scented pale blue flowers in the spring, soft willowy foliage in the summer (there is no better foliage plant), and bright yellow to copper color in the fall. No pests and very tough. Deer don't even like it.

I've grown several Hubricht's/Willowleaf hybrids from seed (they grow next to each other in the big bed) and they color up some but not as much as Hubricht's.

A couple of non-natives really strut their stuff in the garden too. This is Willow leaf Spicebush (Lindera salicifolia), grown from seed. I like the pumpkin orange color.

My witch hazel may hang onto its leaves until after the flowers are done, but look at the fall color! I couldn't have hoped for better.

Seedling of 'Jelena', Hamamelis x intermedia

Half of the Mockorange turned bright yellow.

and the Japanese Flowering Apricot (Prunus mume) was the best shade of apricot (appropriately) ever.

Even though the recent freezes and windy days have stripped most of the leaves ~ even from the sweetgums, which would normally be at their peak now ~ we will have some fall color for a few more weeks. There are still some red maples in the woods that were protected and a few others seem to be genetically hard wired to turn late and are still very colorful, and the Swamp Cyrilla and blueberries are usually very colorful into December. The species roses (R. rugosa, carolina, virginiana, setigera and arkansana -- also turn very late.

Wild blueberry beside the driveway

I'm going to put these blueberries into the big perennial bed this winter or early Spring, after the birds are done with the Bidens. I rooted these three years ago from a blueberry in the woods behind one of the paddocks. G. spotted the parent blueberry one year in the fall when he was on the tractor, easy to do as you can imagine! Getting these plants going have taken a very long time but will be worth it in the end.


  1. What a fantastic autumncolors Sweetbay. Every shrub or tree has it own beautiful color. And not one is the same. What a treasure is the Amsonia. I hope the cold won't make an end of the golden colors.
    Have a wonderful day.

  2. Gorgeous photos of the trees and shrubs in fall. Especially the photos with different colours together are spectacular. It is a real pleasure to spend outside and enjoy the beauties of nature.

  3. I want to come live in your woods. You have all of my favorites -- red maples, sassafras, sorrel trees, sweet pepperbush, black gums. And in abundance! I just planted three carpinus carolinianas in a mini-grove this year. They are tiny and did not get fall color, and of course the trunks are not yet muscly, but some day they will look like yours. So beautiful!

  4. Absolutely beautiful fall color! I totally agree about A. worth the wait. I dream of having a large property someday...complete with a Sassafrass tree :-)

  5. What beautiful fall color you have, Sweetbay! I love the blueberries at the end; they're rather tricky to grow here, because our soil isn't acidic enough. But even if they didn't produce berries, I would love that beautiful foliage. Amsonia is one of my favorites, and the Hubrichtii really shines in the fall.

  6. I loved this tour of your property in fall. Lovely color, and lots of information that was new to me. I'm not that good at trees, so I can never tell exactly what's what in the fall, when I am most interested. It's nice be able to identify some of the sensational trees I'm ogling as I drive.

  7. I enjoyed this posting a lot. You know me and trees! I had no idea about red maples and I have Amsonia and don't remember if I knew that the blooms had a fragrance.
    I want a Sourwood so much, especially this time of year.


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