Welcome to Autumn: Beginning of Fall Colors

I’m always surprised at the joy people get from looking at leaves dying en masse.  This surprise lessens when I experience a lovely scene of oranges, yellows, reds, and browns.  Temperatures are dropping, football is getting underway, and our winter residents are arriving.  All of these things make fall a wonderful season.  I will dedicate this post and hopefully a few more to this season.

This post will focus on fall colors of Arkansas.  Although we’re only a few days into the season, we are starting to see several leaves change.  This may be in part to the dry weather but the colors are the same.  Not all of the fall colors are leaves.  There are several flowers that are now in bloom and many plants are in fruit.

The Yellows

A few of our trees turn yellow before or after turning another color.  The prettiest of yellows are of the hickories.  Unfortunately, most of the hickories around the yard are still green.  There are several other plants that turn yellow, one of which being the Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua).  This plant is known by its palmately lobed, star-shaped leaves.  They turn a nice yellow but will also turn reddish and will end up a dark red/brown.

Sweetgum

Sweetgum

Sweetgum with red leaves

Sweetgum with red leaves

Some of our shrubs and vines turn yellow as well.  Our Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) and Supplejack (Berchemia scandens) are examples of each.  Yellow seems to be the logical next step after green.  The chloroplasts, which give the leaves their green color, are taken back into the roots of woody plants for storage in temperate latitudes.

The Purples

These are mainly fruits.  The aforementioned Beautyberry is one of the most prominent this time of year.  It generally loses its leaves before its fruit is taken.  This leaves naked stalks with bulbous clusters of bright purple fruit.

Junco on Beautyberry

Junco on Beautyberry

As I walked about on this day I found a nice purple stem.  This stem belongs to an herbaceous plant called Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana).  This plant produces dark purple berries but they are highly favored by local wildlife and are usually gone by this time of the year.  Humans like the leaves that are even distributed in cans.  However, this plant is poisonous and must be prepared with caution.  The pinkish-purple stems are quite striking and are still noticeable.  Another plant that still retains its fruits is the Carolina Buckthorn (Frangula caroliniana).  This plant produces hard, reddish purple berries.

Carolina Buckthorn

Carolina Buckthorn

The Reds

This seems to be the most attractive group of colors this time of year.  There are plants that are selectively bred to turn extra red in the fall.  The Red Maple (Acer rubrum) is one of these that is native and very common.  One of our other common reds is the Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica).  This tupelo has glossy leaves that feature a drip tip.

Black Gum

Black Gum

There is an aromatic plant that turns orangish red.  This is the Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) which is in the laurel family.  Its leaves and roots have a smell that is similar to Fruit Loops.  Some people will dig these roots up in the fall and make a tea out of them.

Sassafras

Sassafras

We have two sumacs that are very common and quite lovely in the fall.  These are the Winged Sumac (Rhus copallina) and the Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra).  They are very similar but have subtle differences in their leaflets.  The easiest and quickest way to distinguish them is the presence or absence of wings on the midrib.

Winged Sumac

Winged Sumac

Smooth Sumac

Smooth Sumac

This has been a fairly brief look into the fall colors of Arkansas.  Hopefully I can add to this series as fall progresses.

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