Fall officially began two weeks ago but often the calendar doesn’t align with what we see, and fall colors are only just starting to appear. We’re probably a week or two away from peak color but you can get glimpses, as this view of Half Moon Pond in Hancock shows. Water cools slower than the air and fog forms on lakes, ponds and rivers most mornings now.
While at the pond I took some photos of marsh St. John’s wort seed pods, which are an amazing shade of red. It’s particularly amazing to me because it is one of the few shades of red in nature that I can actually see. Colorblindness plays havoc with reds and blues for me.
Though the drive down this dirt road was mostly green there was quite a bit of yellow to be seen as well. Birches turn yellow and usually do so quite early.
This black birch (Betula lenta) was half green and half yellow. This tree’s bark looks like cherry bark but the twigs have an unmistakable taste of wintergreen, so nibbling on a twig is the easiest way to identify it. Black birch was once harvested, shredded and distilled to make oil of wintergreen, and so many were taken that they can be very hard to find now. Most are found on private property rather than in the forest where they were harvested.
This witch hazel was also half green and half yellow, but in a very different way. Once this shrub loses all its leaves it will bloom. Witch hazel is our latest flower; I’ve seen them even in January.
At this time of year small black witch hats can be seen on some witch hazel leaves. They are actually the gall of the witch hazel gall aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis). These galls won’t hurt the plant, but they do look a little strange. They are called nipple galls or cone heads.
The yellow ribbons along the edges of the old road were made of ferns and wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis.) Native Americans used the root of this plant as emergency food and it was also once used to make root beer.
The ripe berries of autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) signal fall’s arrival. It’s a terribly invasive plant originally from Japan but also very fragrant in spring. Its wonderful fragrance overlaps that of lilacs and honeysuckle and smelling all 3 mingled together is a little slice of heaven that I look forward to each spring.
It looks like it’s going to be a good year for burning bushes (Euonymus alatus,) both in color and berries.
The color of burning bushes can vary considerably, from red to pink to magenta. These along the river have chosen vivid magenta this year. The many berries will ripen from greenish white to orangey red and the birds will eat them quickly, and that’s what makes this plant so invasive. Once they become established they can take over large areas of forest and create enough shade so native plants don’t have a chance.
Fall is the time when more colorful crust fungi appear. This orange one, which I believe is Stereum complicatum, is the first I’ve seen. This fungus is usually brown and I’m not sure if it changes color in the fall or if some of them decide they want to be orange. Of course, I might also have the identification wrong, but it’s very pretty no matter its name and I like seeing it in the woods.
I don’t know if day length or cooler temperatures trigger the need to produce spores in jelly fungi, but I see more of the jelly like fruiting bodies in the fall and winter than I do at other times of year. So far I’ve never been able to find an explanation for why that is.
But I do know that it’s great to come across bright orange jelly fungi in the dead of winter, even if it is frozen solid. I think this one’s name is orange witch’s butter (Dacrymyces palmatus,) which isn’t in the same family as yellow witches’ butter (Tremella mesenterica.) It likes to grow on fallen pines and often looks like it is being squeezed out of voids in the bark, but that’s because it actually grows on the wood of the log and not the bark.
A huge old oak tree was a sea of green except for this one branch which had turned yellow. If this entire tree turns that color it’s really going to be something to see.
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) continues its long, slow change from green to red. Though some trees and bushes seem to change color overnight, Virginia creeper won’t be rushed. This photo was taken on a rare rainy day so the leaves were shinier than they would normally be.
I visited one of my favorite cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) groves hoping to see them wearing orange but instead I saw mostly yellow and green. I don’t know if they’ll go from yellow to orange or not, but I’ll keep checking. Cinnamon ferns get their common name from their cinnamon brown fertile fronds that appear in spring.
This is what I was hoping to see in the cinnamon fern grove. Seeing that many ferns wearing this color is kind of amazing.
There is a spot on the Ashuelot River to the north of town where one tree turns color before all of the others. I can’t get close enough to it to know for sure but I think it’s a maple. It certainly is bright, whatever it is.
There is still more green than other colors along the river, but pink, yellow, and orange can be seen here and there. This is one of my favorite places to walk in the fall. Before too long the colors here will be astounding.
Since I started with a photo of Half Moon Pond I’ll end with one too, taken with my cell phone just 2 days ago in the early morning light. It shows the promise of things to come, I think. Everyone has been wondering what this extended drought would do to the fall colors but from what I’ve seen so far things look to be fairly normal. One theory says that fall will be colorful but brief and that could prove to be true, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Meanwhile I’ll enjoy being inside this beautiful kaleidoscope of colors.
An autumn forest is such a place that once entered, you never look for the exit. ~Mehmet Murat ildan
Thanks for coming by.