Plant(s) of the Month: Fall Foliage Part 1 of 2

By on December 29, 2010.

So after finals and family time for the holidays, LI decided to supply some New Years cheer with a seasons ending showcase of the Southeast’s choiciest fall trees.  Florida may not top a Blue Ridge Mountain Fall and it sometimes doesn’t show its cards until December, but fall color is still accessible as a climactic transition throughout our region.

Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and UsesLeaf color varies as much as the weather and can be frustrating for a designer who relies on equilibrium. The plant selections presented here attempt to categorize by color. Most species introduced are a conglomerant of photographic observations and insights from Michael A. Dirr’s ‘Manual of Woody Landscape Plants’.

Painting with Yellow

Carya sp. – The Hickory, Pecan, and Black Walnut comprise a large portion of the Juglandaceae Family in America.  Leaf arrangements are all alternate, pinnately compound. Each leaf is broken into 5-12 oppositely arranged leaflets, depending on the individual specie. Most are glabrous, or pubescent. Can be quite difficult to transplant.

Fall color is a rich golden yellow and persists for nearly a month, some turning to brown and remaining eye catching. Habit is upright, ovoid and open. Fairly adaptable to most soils.

Ulmus sp. – The elms have been used in streets, park plantings and gardens while becoming an icon of the northeast. Here the native Winged Elm (Ulmus alata) can be used extensively in woodlands or roadsides. A nice yellow early autumn color and general adaptability as a native proves very useful. The leaves abscise, or fall, much sooner than desirable.


The more common Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia) is a cultivared non-native friendly plant that affords similar fall color but a delightful peeling orange bark. Many varieties are available including the popular ‘Allee’ and ‘Drake’ versions.

Liriodendron tulipifera – The Tulip Polar trees are native throughout the east coast to the midwest and can be found in mixed deciduous or solely poplar forests.

12/26 color Univ. Fl Campus

Exhibits yellowing at the edges towards a full golden yellow in Oct-Nov. ‘Truly aristocratic’ citing Dirr.

Mostly pyramidal in form, growing to great heights  over 120’.  Transplants well, somewhat weak wood, with a fast growth rate.  Tulip refers to the shape of its leafs.

Chionanthus sp. –  The Fringe Trees consist of several species within the Oleaceae Family. One native Chionanthus virginicus and one transplant C. retusus are grown in the SE. Both are shrubs to small trees, with gray peeling bark and a spreading open habit. Kind of an underdog and usually kept as a specimen.

Fall color is noted here as yellowish to brown, but quite nice this winter in Gainesville. Check back March-April for an update in flower.


I know there are plenty of plantable options to heighten the rapture of fall, feel free to chime in below and offer some of your favorite autumn species.

Check back for the flaming reds and crimson purple elders in part 2.


James Wheeler is a student of Landscape Architecture and Botany at the University of Florida and a contributing writer to Landscape Invocation.

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