Fall Splendor

By Mary Beth Pottratz

The ground is a patchwork quilt of leaves in yellows and golds, browns and purples, crimsons, greens, beige’s, greys and more. But look up, and the vista is filled with large swathes of golden yellow maples, brilliant red sumac, crimson dogwood, green tamaracks just starting to burnish gold, and oaks in shades of green to gold, purple and brown.

DSC_0799 Fall splendorFall Splendor

The hill along Wood Duck Trail is a lush mixture of green trees accented by others glowing in its own fall splendor. The prairies and wetlands are blushing seedheads of pastel brick with green and yellow leaves beneath. Fluffy white spires of goldenrod seeds pop up between red sumac and golden grapevines.

DSC_0827 Oak crimson and goldCrimson and Gold

Hackberries are green, with some berries still on the twigs. Oak leaves are a mélange of green and yellow, crimson and gold. The river birch has changed its deep green leaves to patterns of yellow, and many have fallen. Its bark flakes and curls, revealing peach tones beneath.

Catkins can be seen on American hazelnut now that most of its leaves have fallen. The remaining leaves have tones of brick and gold dotted with dark spots.

DSC_0118 shades of mapleMany Shades of Maple!

Most maples are gold, and many are still green, but others glow brilliant red or gold in the sun. There are seemingly many shades of maple!

DSC_0868 blue beech catkin and green fruit croppedCatkins with Tiny Green Fruits

Blue beech has lost almost all its leaves, revealing more of its smooth grey sinewy bark. It still sports some of its interesting catkins with tiny green fruits.

DSC_0906 Ironwood leaf and catkinsIronwood, Also Called Hop Hornbeam

Ironwood, also called hop hornbeam, is often confused with blue beech. Its scaly bark has thin vertical stripes. Its mottled green leaves are awash with yellow and pale orange highlights. The papery scales on its catkin are nut-brown. Each scale protects a fruit inside.

That graceful grass, prairie dropseed, has red or yellow stems with pale green and yellow grasses above. It is tipped with airy seeds that sway fast in the wind.

Little bluestem is a study in pale reddish-brown stems dotted throughout with fuzzy white spikelets, spouting from neat clumps. Canada wild rye is swollen with fruit and wiry, curled awns.

Indian grass sports beige tips with spikelets and tiny feathery fluff. Two wiry awns poke upwards from each seed.

DSC_0046 bumblebee on hairy goldenasterBumblebee

A bumblebee hangs onto the yellow petal of hairy false golden aster, unable to move at today’s 52⁰. He will camp here for the night!

Several black-eyed Susans are also in bloom. Deep purple New England aster flowers have shriveled to brown. Its leaves are still deep green as its seed matures. Wild geranium leaves are burgundy washed with green or yellow. Smooth blue asters are still flowering, but their yellow centers are turning reddish-purple.

DSC_0035 milkweed pods and seedMilkweed Pods

Goldenrods are done flowering, and are either maturing their seed or already dispersing it in fluffy white clumps. Milkweed pods have opened to allow the dark brown seeds to escape. Each is attached to a silky white set of fibers to carry it on the wind.

Leaving milkweed stems up is important: pollinators such as native bees and flies hibernate in the stems. And when spring arrives, orioles and other birds will strip thin fibers from the stems to weave into their nests.

The colors of fall are royal crimsons, stately purples, trimmed in rich golds against backgrounds of pale grasses. Visit soon to see the splendor of fall!

Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at www.minnesotamasternatralist.org

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