Thursday, October 31, 2013

Old Gold: Annus mirabili (ending the growing season with a BANG!)

End of October--and fall color still blazing (and trees still green!)
Of course, Autumn is pretty wonderful everywhere. New England and Northeastern Asia are famous for the brilliant fall foliage of maples and oaks. We have our own leaf-peeping season the last week in September when aspen turn bright yellow throughout the Rockies. Fall can be a hit or miss affair in Denver: a few years ago things were shaping up nicely when an arctic front crisped the green leaves up and down the Front Range in early October. No fall color that year. And then there is this "year of miracles": Denver Water declares drought just in time for the wettest summer in history (in Boulder and Aurora at least). The extra moisture was probably the reason trees have the most prolonged season of fall color I can ever remember. EVERY tree seems to be turning--above is a random shot showing the predominant Old Gold color in Denver--more and more punctuated by bright scarlet Acer x freemanii and purple Ash. But practically every tree is turning brightly--including the normally dullish elms, locusts, lindens, Norway maples, and other "meh" trees. They are just glorious this year!
American elms, lindens, locusts, Norway Maples--all the "dullish" trees have turned a glorious gold!
Typical vista today--bright golden color on practically every tree!

Buckeyes that ordinarily turn in September are in full color October 31!
The buckeyes are a secret weapon hereabouts: Although named for Ohio these seem to like it better out here, turning glorious orange--and often deep crimson and even pink--these two are just outside my office---obviously turning just hunky dory this year!
A brilliant red Ohio buckeye at Denver Botanic Gardens
Timing is way off: the bright red and orange buckeyes at the West end of Denver Botanic Gardens usually shed their leaves before October: this year they're still hanging on and its November 1 tomorrow! Amelanchiers usually last just a few days, but I've driven past the same bright crimson/orange shadblows for weeks! The cool weather combined with lack of strong winds must be the cause--and the fact the soil is still quite moist perhaps.

Pawnee Buttes Sand Cherry at Denver Botanic Gardens
Even the little critters, like the prostrate Pawnee Buttes sand cherries are lasting much longer than usual. Here in the Plant Select garden it's been wonderful pinky purple for weeks....
Pawnee Buttes along Monaco Avenue in Denver
Whole boulevards are planted to these in my neighborhood--like these along Monaco: I almost had an accident photographing these in slow traffic the other day. My bad.

White oak (Quercus alba) on 6th Avenue Parkway
There are WAY too few white oaks in Denver. A half dozen of my colleagues who commute along this road commented to me about the bright red color on this that lasted several weeks (instead of the few fleeting days it does normally). I drove by today and it was maroon rather than scarlet--but still stunning.

Closeup of White oak leaves
I just love that iconic foliage.
Acer triflorum at Denver Botanic Gardens
Maples hog more than their share of the autumnal fireworks: the color on this Chinese maple was so vivid that several colleagues commented on it, and I even saw it posted on Facebook!

Acer triflorum at Denver Botanic Gardens
A closer look: I love that luminescent tangerine color...

Norway maple along 6th Avenue
The Norway Maples are notoriously dull--but this year they're turning bright yellow all over town. These are not the problem here they are in the east (nor many other "weedy" trees that are well behaved on our challenging steppes...

Crabapples along the promenade at Denver Botanic Gardens
I never think of crabapples and Prunus as being particularly vivid in autumn: not THIS year--they are as bright as maples and oaks! Here the wonderful promenade in front of the Orangerie at Denver Botanic Gardens has been ablaze for weeks!

Crabapple and Silver Maple on Jersey Street
A very random shot on my commute of a mere crab and silver maple, for Heaven's sake: looking mighty good together!
Acer ginnala at apartment complex Quebec Way
And the trees that are commonly brilliant like Amur Maple have burned even brighter. We have been blessed with more than our share of disasters in recent years: colossal forest fires, floods and droughts. So when we're granted a long and gentle autumn like this one--with gorgeous fall color (and no end in sight) from mid September to November--well, time to count our blessings. I've upgraded autumn many points on my private "Standard and Poor" system this year! (It has far outpaced my favorite season of the year--Spring was such a dud!)...


  1. Hi Panayoti,
    Since no one else has taken the opportunity to comment or inquire your voluminous knowledge, I have a question relating to fall color. Which grass has the best color in the fall? It seems to me that grasses, while nice in fall, do not really shine like trees and shrubs. My current favorite is Sporobolus heterolepis. I am wondering if there are better choices.

  2. Sporobolus heterolepis is awesome at Denver Botanic Gardens right now--you're right. I actually think the grasses are shining right now: they may not have the glaring bright oranges and reds of the oaks or maples (which only keep that color a week or two at best)--but the brilliant tawny red-orange of some forms of Schizachyrium last all winter. There are some incredibly red forms of Andropogon gerardii as well--and of course lots of dark bluish silvers. "Fifty shades of brown" would be a good way to describe them--brown is our operative color in winter--just as green is your's in the summer. But the variation between lion fur tan, avocado greens, ambers and luminous gold--this is as good as it gets and it's mighty good! and thank you for your kind assessment of my knowledge: I would describe it as more of a tangled heap than a volume.


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