For the next month, we will be treated to a grand spectacle of nature with the coming of fall foliage. In truth, “The Show” is already here and not only with the changing leaves but also with fruits and bark and seeds of trees and shrubs here in Northeast Ohio.
I was reminded of how varied the visuals of these natural treasures are at programs such as our Name That Tree program last week at Ohio State University’s Secrest Arboretum in Wooster and with walks throughout the area this past week. From the glistening of smokebush inflorescences in the morning dew to the stark texture of black walnut trees and fruits at dusk, come forth and sense the season.
Fruits and leaves
There are a number of trees and shrubs that now sport attractive fruits, especially in combination with leaves that are now turning color.
Examples include flowering dogwood that match bright shining scarlet fruits with reddening and purpling foliage. Also, fringetrees, both Chinese fringetree and our native fringetree, that sport green leaves matched with beautiful clusters of deep blue egg-shaped in fine contrast; these will be even more attractive as the leaves yellow over the next few weeks.
Crab apples are of course always a fall favorite here in Ohio with fruits of purple, canary yellow, orange, scarlet and some two-toned with shades of red and gold. Many crab apples are not particularly showy with fall foliage hues but ‘Pumpkin Pie’ with its eponymous coloring and yellow fruits, and ‘Molten Lava’ with its cascades of fiery orange leaves and bright red fruits spew forth in the spreading-weeper growth habit of this crabapple cultivar.
Probably the most intense color combination to my eyes, though is ‘Winterthur’ viburnum, which gets more showy each week as the tiny pink and blue fruits are joined by the ever more deepening reds and maroons of the changeling leaves.
The foliage of course will still be the main event this month, with forests of sugar maple in their luminous orange-yellow garb, the intense scarlets and oranges of red maples and sourgum, the maroons of various oaks, the lemon yellows of birches and sassafras, and the purples and yellows of many of our fading ash tree populations.
Mix in the evergreen of pines and spruces and firs and hemlocks and the golds, yellows and bronzes of their deciduous cousins, dawn redwoods, larches and bald and pond cypresses that are conifers with needles and cones that nevertheless have fall color and leaf drop. Enjoy this fall the individual leaves of tuliptree, which is easy to identify not only for its tulip like flowers in spring, but also its tulip-shaped foliage yellowing now.
Maples get most of the press relative to fall foliage, but sour gums, also known as black gum and tupelo, and with the Latin name of Nyssa sylvatica may truly be our most spectacular fall foliage tree. They are not as numerous as maples, but the change from glossy green foliage to scarlets, oranges and purples is a sight to see.
It is already underway, and many mistake the gradual and uneven breakdown of the green chlorophyll pigment in the leaves now as some kind of leaf spot disease, but it is just the beginning of the change and eventual falling of these leaves.
Our plant identification workshop was informative and fun as usual, and as per normal, there were a few puzzles.
Gene and George Ross from the E.F. Pouly Co. posed a stumper relative to whether a huge cottonwood in Smithville was an Eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) or a swamp cottonwood (P. heterophylla). If the latter it will be a contender for the largest swamp cottonwood in Ohio.
We are still deliberating. We also enjoyed the beauty of trees easiest to identify by their bark, including paperbark maple, with its peeling, cinnamon-colored bark, always glorious reflecting sunlight.
Pawpaw fruits were ripening and the cool mahogany-colored seeds inside are a treat to roll around in your fingers, Captain Queeg-like (circa The Caine Mutiny). Smokebush was smoking. Possibly most unusual though, was the identity and name of a non-tree herbaceous plant outside the Discovery Pavilion at Secrest Arboretum.
The plant is the exotic Senna didymobotrya, and when you rub the leaves, it brings to your senses memories of attending a showing of The Caine Mutiny or Attack of the Killer Tomatoes or Day of the Triffids, as up wafts the divine aromas of, believe it or not, — buttered popcorn. Yes, this is indeed the buttered-popcorn plant. You could look it up, or more enjoyably come to Secrest to smell the … buttered popcorn.
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 email@example.com or call 330-466-0270. Please include your phone number if you write.