Earlier this week, we got the unofficial welcome to the changing of the seasons, as our mild fall finally turned into the premonition of winter that arrives each year.
Nevertheless as turkey time approaches, we should be thankful for the mild days earlier this fall and for such a long period of fall foliage features. In respect to that, here are a few more highlights of our fall foliage.
First, though, here is the winner of our earlier Name That Plant contest.
Sea myrtle (Baccharis halimifolia) is the identity of the mystery plant from New York City’s High Line pictured in the Nov. 2 column, correctly identified by the prize-winning Phillip Kane of Akron.
This member of the composite family (Asteraceae) is a native shrub of the Gulf and Atlantic states and does well in coastal areas, including those in salty habitats. It has migrated inland, especially where road salts accumulate.
Sea myrtle has many additional common names, including groundsel bush and salt bush. It is dioecious (“two houses”) meaning that male and female flowers reside on different plants, and the fall-blooming female flowers produce cottony flower heads (leading one reader to guess that this was indeed a cotton plant).
The pictured seed heads are wonderfully described by the United States Department of Agriculture as “silvery, plume-like achenes, which appear in the fall on female plants resembling silvery paintbrushes.”
In addition to its finery, sea myrtle can tolerate poor soils, salty sites, and droughty areas. Fellow Almanac writer Denise Ellsworth, a pollination specialist with Ohio State University’s Department of Entomology, should appreciate that it does attract butterflies, including monarchs.
Visit it on the High Line next fall, and enjoy the flowers and seed heads.
Kane’s prize, if he should accept it, is a new book titled Seeing Flowers: Discover the Hidden Life of Flowers by Teri Dunn Chace and Robert Llewellyn. Llewellyn was also the photographer for one of my absolute favorite books, Seeing Trees: Discovering the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees (2011). Of course, Kane could always opt for this entry; both will make wonderful holiday presents.
Now for this week’s ID feature ….
This tree resides in my front yard, and was a gift from Dawes Arboretum 27 years ago after I gave a talk on insect pests of trees. Fortunately, this tree in general has few insects or infectious diseases and my gift tree with its multi-stemmed trunks has now grown about 40 feet tall in those 27 years.
It is a native tree, but fairly unusual in Northeast Ohio woodlands. As to its specific identity, for those who send their entries for another prize book this week, I will be discriminating and somewhat unfair as to the precise species.
Unfair in that I suppose that you cannot really tell the species from the accompanying picture, but (big hint), it is one of the species in this genus (remember a genus is a group of related species), which provides oils in the bark that are used to make a refreshing drink, once a staple at county fairs, and still an occasional offering.
In my yard, my favorite features of this tree are the intensely lemon-yellow fall foliage, which was spectacular from mid-October this year and into the first few days of November, and for the all-season scratch-and-sniff aspect of the young bark.
Again, though several species in this genus produce the aromatic oils, the prize goes to the first reader to identify this species (by Latin name) correctly. I know: Latin is a language/Dead as dead can be/ First it killed the Romans/ Now it’s killing me! Nevertheless, name that species of this tree with (hint, hint, hint) reddish-black, nonpeeling, smooth bark.
Ira Road Trailhead
My wife and I took a walk two weeks ago, starting at the Ira Road Trailhead of the Metro Parks, Serving Summit County. Many hikers, birders and plant lovers had the same yen.
It was a classic Northeast Ohio fall day. There were towering sycamores along the waterways, with their bonelike bark and round fruits patterned against the late afternoon sky. Wild clematis was sensational in its fluffy detail growing over other trail-side plants.
As a plant pathologist, I appreciated the end of the yearly cycle for the tar spot disease on maple. Beeches and sugar maples, wild rose hips and water scenes abounded.
And our last coda for fall foliage: Korean and striped maples in our backyard, the surprising yellow-green look of climbing hydrangea foliage, tuliptree leaves fallen to the grass.
Soon, on to the season of evergreens and holiday plants, indoor bulbs and foliage plants, and the re-emergence of bark features on trees. And if winter comes ….
Jim Chatfield is a horticultural educator with Ohio State University Extension. If you have questions about caring for your garden, write: Jim Chatfield, Plant Lovers’ Almanac, Ohio State University Extension, 1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 330-466-0270. Please include your phone number if you write.