Nature Notes

Shifting Colors

The entrance to a woodland trail is brushed with pale brick, soft apricot, and pastel yellows on a background of forest green. But inside, the canopy is many hues of green, much like the red maple tree.

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Visiting the Arboretum: All members and visitors need to make a reservation in advance of their visit to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. We hope to see you soon!

The beautiful red maple just past the Arboretum gates is ablaze in burnished crimson glory. But stand next to the trunk, look up, and you will see mostly green leaves. The change from outside a tree to inside startles me every time I compare fall’s shifting colors. The U.S. Forest Service has a nice explanation of fall color science: Science of Fall Colors | US Forest Service (usda.gov).

The entrance to a woodland trail is brushed with pale brick, soft apricot, and pastel yellows on a background of forest green. But inside, the canopy is many hues of green, much like the red maple tree. The forest floor is littered with dried leaves and sunlight slivers through the canopy.

In the Garden for Wildlife, a blue beech tree displays a few color-shifting leaves next to its catkin in fruit. This is an interesting Minnesota native understory tree for shade. It has an unusually smooth, sinewy trunk, interesting catkins in spring and fall, and beautiful fall foliage that blends green to pale goldenrod to apricot like a watercolor. A member of the birch family, its leaf shape resembles that of a birch.

Many are at the Arb today to enjoy the colors and the warm afternoon weather. There are four weddings and many walkers, joggers and even birders like my friends George and Ann of the Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter. George remarks, “It’s siesta time for birds,” but we all hope to find them as evening approaches.

And indeed, I do! Dark-eyed juncos jump from shrub to ground, and I track some tiny birds that remain hidden through shrubs and trees. I watch in fascination as a bird repeatedly swoops from a small tree and hovers for several seconds about a foot above a mound in the grass, chattering up a storm. No one has seen a hummingbird in the last 10 to 14 days in our area, but it is the only small bird I know that can hover.

Geese rest peacefully beneath a crabapple tree. I admire a maple leaf blushing at its edges. Brown-eyed Susans are the only gold-colored flower still in bloom. The colors of goldenrods and sunflowers seem to have wafted to tree leaves above.

But white asters and deep purple New England asters are still sighing their last breaths. There is still time to find the asters, enjoy shifting fall colors and much more.

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

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