Sunday, November 27, 2016

Fall Color At Home

The fall color this year has been pretty good overall. Some plants have done poorly due to the dry weather in Georgia, but others have been spectacular. Although I would love to take trips into the mountains of Georgia to see fall color, I rarely take the time to do so.

Wild red maple (Acer rubrum)
Luckily, I don’t have to travel far to see beautiful leaf colors each fall. I live in an area that was primarily an oak-hickory forest, and many wild trees are still around on the edges of country roads, in the backyards of many homes, and in thick stands on undeveloped land.

My own backyard is a good collection of what I see all around me in southeastern Cherokee county. I have oak species such as white oak (Quercus alba), red oak (Q. rubra), scarlet oak (Q. coccinea), black oak (Q. velutina), post oak (Q. stellata), water oak (Q. nigra), blackjack oak (Q. marilandica), and southern red oak (Q. falcata). These oaks provide colors such rich golden and chestnut browns, deep bright reds, and robust burgundies.

Scarlet oak across from the mailbox

More trees bringing an awesome show of red color include red maple (Acer rubrum), blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), and sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum).

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) lends a hand with deep oranges and reds. Florida maple (Acer floridanum) and chalkbark maple (A. leucoderme) punch out some bright orange-reds as well.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)
Beech and white oak

Numerous hickories bring on a wide range of golden hues, from the medium yellow of bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis) to the almost burnt-butter golds of mockernut (C. alba), pignut hickory (C. glabra) and sand hickory (C. pallida). Assisting in the yellow department is tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), Florida maple again (Acer floridanum), persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), and green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica).

Sourwood and hickory in the backyard
Wild and crazy sweetgum leaves

A true wildcard can be found in an oft-maligned tree known as sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua). The color range of this common tree is from yellow to purple with every shade in between. As much as people hate its seed capsules, I guaranteed they are loving it from afar come November.

The view from the deck 

Same direction but further into the woods

Evergreens really set off the reds/oranges/yellows of the deciduous forest, and we have several species of pine trees to do the job - along with help from Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), a tall upright juniper that is so important to native birds.

Quercus alba several miles away

Actually, all these native trees provide enormous value to local insects and birds and should be kept (and planted in new landscapes). Many are available from nurseries (by special order if needed, let's create some demand!).

If we all used some of these gorgeous native trees, we’d have more fall color to see at home and we wouldn’t have to travel to the mountains to see native trees putting on a show (although we can still go there if we want to!).

As you enjoy this year's fall color, think about how you might add more to your own view.


  1. The upside of this years' drought has been great fall color here in the NC Piedmont, too. I don't remember the leaves of Beech being quite so gold before. Amazing, too, how similar our plant palettes are - a state apart.

  2. Thanks once again, Ellen, for a beautifully written and illustrated blog.

  3. I've been trying to id my trees this week with the beautiful fall colors. I found this post interesting to read and very helpful in my search, thank you!

  4. Loving the fall colors this year, thanks very much for this post. Wish you could give a talk at Panola Mountain State Park, they have so many trees there.