Sunday, December 1, 2019

A Glorious Moment

We are exiting the fall foliage season and this one turned out better than many of us thought (given the heat and drought in September).  An early freeze had people further worried – sorry crape myrtle owners, many of those leaves got turned to mush – but most of the native woody plants sailed through that pretty well. This past week has seen some gorgeous leaves on my blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) but the real stars are the oaks (Quercus sp.).

I walked around my neighborhood on a beautiful sunny day this week to appreciate them, especially some of the scarlet oaks (Quercus coccinea). The deep red leaves were at their peak this week and the sunny day helped them glow. People should be streaming into nurseries right now, pointing to their smartphone photos, asking for help finding just that tree. This is fall color that people are willing to pay for!

There were several trees that were huge, with wide crowns of orange-ruby leaves glowing against the sky. Medium trees had smaller crowns but their red leaves contrasted nicely with adjacent pine trees.  And small trees, struggling to thrive in the shadow of bigger neighbors, poked out with branches of bright color in all directions.

New house with existing scarlet oak
Sometimes the color is a bit red-orange

I worry about these trees in an environment of landowners who see more value in the nursery than they do in the wild edges of their yards. These trees are a standout for just a few weeks each year. If you didn’t notice them then and realize how gorgeous they are, then you wouldn’t know their special beauty. Those who buy non-native trees for their fall color (e.g., Japanese maples, gingko) can have native color that supports the ecosystem in so many more ways.

Scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea)
A house was built recently on a 2-acre vacant lot where there are some beautiful scarlet oaks. A small one is growing near a big one, both of them the color of a cherry lifesaver. Should the new owner decide to landscape the area, I suspect the small one will get removed because those doing the design and the work will not realize what value the small tree has; it’s just in the way.

And so we lose the valuable floral heritage of Georgia, one tree at a time. I wish I knew how to convince people to understand what they have before they get rid of it. My neighbor has a beautiful pair of scarlet oak trees; I look forward to this time every year when they make my trip to the mailbox a little extra special. I noticed a seedling near my mailbox this week, a likely present from a squirrel’s trip across the road. I will do all I can to keep this one growing strong, as a present to the future owners.

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