Published October 5, 2011 | By Robert LaHoff

Without a doubt autumn is my favorite time of year! Cool, crisp nights allow you to leave your windows open, fresh apple cider, pumpkin picking, fall harvests and most importantly, to me, fall color. Deciduous trees begin to put on a display that most of us “plant geeks” wait all year for. An overly simplistic answer as to why this happens is because as the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer and cooler, biochemical processes in the leaves begin. There are so many fantastic trees to be on the look out for… here are a few of my favorites.

My favorite tree of all time is Ginkgo,Ginkgo biloba. I admire any tree that can survive the ages as well as this prehistoric tree has done. Known to be growing some 150-200 million years ago, this virtually pest free tree is native to Eastern China and was native to North America at one time. A deciduous conifer, which doesn’t seem possible to most, has one of the most distinct leaves you will ever come across. I think most of us had one in our leaf collection in elementary school. Beautiful fan shaped leaves turn butter yellow this time of year and when they drop… a carpet of gold paints your lawn.

Persian Parrotia, Parrotia persica, is one tree you really have to be a “tree hugger” to enjoy. One of the few trees I can name that is native to Iran, Parrotia’s fall color is very hit and miss. I still have visions of the one at The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, NY. My timing was perfect that day as I was able to see the most exciting fall color I have ever seen on a tree. A bold statement considering I am a “Plant Guy” and have been in the horticulture field for the better part of my life. Intense shades of red, orange and purple bled throughout its leaves. If it is possible to surpass that sight, I later went back and visited the same tree in February the next year just to see the exfoliating bark showcasing gray, green, brown and white markings. Patchwork bark that was very reminiscent of another favorite plant of mine Lacebark Pine, Pinus bungeana.

My list of favorite trees goes on and on. Never wanting to deprive an eager student and many times restricted on word counts, here is a list of other sensational trees with vibrant color with abbreviated descriptions. Paperbark maple, Acer griseum, turns bright red with exfoliating bark. Katsuratree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum, has strong apricot color and its leaves give off a cotton candy smell or spicy cinnamon-brown sugar odor. Kousa Dogwood, Cornus kousa, has reddish-purple to scarlet fall color and edible pinkish-red fruit. I have tried this fruit… it tastes a bit mealy to me, however others rave of it. Black Tupelo, Black Gum or Sour Gum is Nyssa sylvatica. This native to Maine, Ontario, Michigan and Texas has blazing red fall color with yellow, orange and purple too! Sourwood, Oxydendrum arboreum, is certainly a tree you don’t see everyday despite that it is a native to the United States. Strong reds, yellow and purple leaves prevail here. Common Sassafras, Sassafras albidum, is another one of those you probably collected in elementary school. Three distinctly different leaves on the same tree, entire, mitten-shaped or 3-lobed, this beauty has oranges, reds, purples and yellows dancing through it in the fall. I introduced this tree to our daughter last autumn and likened the 3-lobed leaf to that of a ghost. A popular visual around Halloween for sure. Finally my last favorite of the season has the longest Latin name I can think of. Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, is another deciduous conifer; yes there is more than one, that offers up excellent orange-brown color. A true giant in the plant kingdom Dawn Redwood is different than Coast Redwood or California Redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, and Giant Sequoia, Sequoiadendron giganteum, for those keeping track.

There are so many worthwhile trees to be on the look out for this autumn. My list is predicated on years in the industry and images conjured up from past experiences. Keep your eye out for any and all Japanese maples. An entire book can be dedicated to the fall markings of this very diverse group of trees. Your garden experiences should not end with the disappearance of your trees leaves. This winter try looking at the skeletal outlines of your trees. Who knows I may just make a “plant geek” out of you yet.

Posted in Fall Color