By Mary Beth Pottratz
Sunshine filters through almost-bare branches. A steadily drifting drape of puffy thin cloudlets plays like a kaleidoscope on the ground.
A wide and short redbud tree still has some yellow leaves peaking between sun and shade. Its multiple stems are coated with an interesting shaggy bark. Clusters of red buds form at the points of its zigzag branches.
I am delighted to find witch-hazel! Most of its golden leaves have already fallen. But its reddish-brown twigs are not bare. Masses of yellow pom-poms explode like miniature fireworks along the branches.
These curious flowers bloom in the fall. Last year, I photographed them coated with ice during December! Each flower has four thin, wrinkled yellow ribbons yellow extending from its center. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources lists this understory shrub as being of Special Concern, and I rarely see them in the wild.
An American bittersweet, another native understory shrub, is aflame with orange-red leaves. Its clusters of red seed pods open to bright orange fruits at the ends of stems. Behind them, a raft of tall oak trees still thick with leaves set the bittersweet off with a burgundy-red backdrop.
Groupings of tall Showy goldenrod are topped with bushy white pyramids of seedheads, lit up by the diffused sun.
But a light scent of pine draws me around a bend, and then I see its source: Tall tamaracks, with fluffy golden needles just starting to fall and line the walks. The only coniferous trees to drop its needles in the fall, tamaracks seem lit from within when their soft green needles lighten to yellow.
As the sun’s cast lowers, I marvel at the glowing foliage of an oak tree. Golden centers seem lit from within, darkening to deep reddish orange edges.
Underfoot, the colors are stunning as well. A leaf collage carpets the ground with red oak, yellow maple, green and yellow birch, basswood, redbud and more!
The collage of fall reminds me of nature’s last big hurrah before flora takes its winter rest. Reluctant to let it go, I plan more time outdoors for the coming week. It’s still not too late!
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer Program is available at www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.