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Local fall foliage is at its colorful peak

Posted: November 13, 2011 - 1:06am

At this time of year, people are flocking to the north Georgia mountains to look at the fall color.

The leaf color is past the peak in the mountains, but the leaves here are putting on a great display of color.

I don’t remember when the leaves were this colorful here. There will be a little bit of red here, a touch of yellow there and spots of orange mixed among all green and what is left of this past summer.

When the trees have this much color, I will get questions about tree identifications. Sometimes I will know the tree, but most of the time I don’t.

Knowing which trees have the yellow, red, orange, purple, brown or gold fall foliage is the challenging part, and to make it harder, the fall foliage of some trees turn sooner than others. Also, I have seen trees with yellow leaves one year and orange the next year.

The following trees give an excellent and reliable show of fall color:

The first color is green. This is an easy one, right? There are two types of trees: deciduous and evergreen. Deciduous trees shed their leaves each fall, while evergreen trees keep their leaves year-round. Deciduous trees are responsible for the various colors other than green.

Each fall, the green leaves or green spots present in the landscape are the evergreen trees, which, in our area, includes all the pine trees, eastern red cedars, magnolias and American hollies.

However, that rule can be tricky early in the season. The foliage of most oak trees usually remains green until late in the season. So until the foliage of all the deciduous trees turns to their respectable colors, the evergreen trees with lasting green foliage won’t be quite evident.

The trees that produce red or scarlet leaves stand out in the landscape or woods. In the landscape and countryside, the trees with red or scarlet foliage are usually red maples, sourwoods, blackgums, flowering dogwoods, sweetgums, northern red oaks, southern red oaks and scarlet oaks. Near and around homes, many people desiring red fall color often plant Japanese maples, ornamental red maples, crape myrtles and Bradford pears. Chinese elms, Shumard oaks, and Japanese flowering cherries will also display nice red fall foliage.

Another small tree that produces scarlet leaves is sassafras. A couple of vines also produce these bright colors: Virginia creeper and poison ivy.

The next color that stands out is orange, yellow and gold. Sugar maples are No. 1 on my list because they are best known for their spectacular fall orange foliage. Examples of trees with orange, yellow or gold fall foliage include numerous ornamental maples, some Japanese maples, all native hickories, river birches, willow oaks, American beeches, green ash, yellow poplars and gingko trees.

Yellow poplars, sometimes called tulip trees, are one of the first trees to turn its leaves yellow at the first sign of cooler weather. American beeches will hold their spectacular gold to tan leaves throughout the entire winter until right before spring’s new growth. Hickories go unnoticed throughout most of the year, but come alive in the fall with their bright golden leaves. For the best pure yellow, nothing beats the ornamental ginkgo trees during autumn.

Occasionally, the color purple is seen amongst the fall foliage. Trees that sometimes display purple fall foliage are sweetgums, Chinese elms and white ash. In our area, sweetgum trees, known mostly for their nuisance “sweetgum balls,” are usually the first trees to splash the landscape with its deep red then purple fall foliage.

The leaves of most trees turn from green directly to brown without the display of any other color. Eventually, the trees that have red, orange, yellow, gold or purple fall foliage will also turn brown. Dull brown, like the brighter colors, are part of the fall landscape and play a role in the fall show.

I hope you enjoy the fall colors as much as I have.

Charles Phillips is a retired Columbia County Extension Service agent and operates Hort Consulting. He can be reached at cphillipshort@comcast.net, or at (706) 836-2152.

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