Saturday, October 6, 2012

Smooth Sumac and White Ash Blazing With Color

This picture from our nature preserve shows a variety of tree species, but Sugar Maple is by far the most dominant 
The trees decided to defy the predictions that this was going to be a lack-luster fall for foliage in the Northeast. In fact, some species are really outdoing themselves around our nature preserve. 2 impressive examples are Smooth Sumac and White Ash. The sumac has always been a fall favorite of mine. A single leaflet can vignette from yellow to green to red, thus bestowing one compound leaf with virtually all the colors of a peak fall foliage display.

Smooth Sumac Trees growing in a tight group along our road frontage 
The sumac is a low tree that grows in clumps -most often along the edge of the forest, so its bright colors take their place right in the front row of trees where they are the most visible. The sumac's low height often sets it against the dark trunks of larger trees, thus insuring a great amount of contrast. In a way, the sumac looks like it could be acting as kindling for the forest, setting the other trees' foliage ablaze from beneath. At the sumac's level there is little colorful competition except for yellow leaves of Bittersweet vines,Wild Grape and maybe some burgundy colored viburnums.
2  positively glowing leaflets from a single compound leaf. Note the vignetting on each 
The fruit of the Smooth Sumac is brick red, horn-like structure. They grow singly only at apex of each branch and they tend to accentuate the exotic look of these small trees. These fruits are used as emergency food for wildlife -usually resorted to in winter only when no other food is available. I've even seen insect-eaters like Kingbirds feeding on it during late spring snow storms when no insects are flying.
Smooth Sumac laden with its red fruit
The White Ash is one of the unsung heroes of the fall foliage display. The leaves of these medium to large trees turn a wide variety of colors. Like the sumac, this tree has compound leaves and the individual leaflets tend to vignette from one color to another -though not as drastically as the sumac. The most common colors of the Ash Trees range from deep gold to bright burgundy to dark Purple, but other colors can also become quite common in a given year. Some may turn a distinct shade of peach.
Most  of our White Ash Trees turn gold with copper highlights
There's a world of gold shinning in those Ash leaves

White Ash again, looking red from a distance but more wine-colored when seen up-close against the blue sky
The White Ash is in the maple family and granted, that's a hard family to compete with when it comes to fall colors. But in my opinion, the Ash manages quite well even when compared to their flamboyant cousins, the Red maple and the Sugar Maple. White Ash trees make up about 10% of the trees in the forests of Upstate New York, and a truly colorful fall depends on their participation.

This Ash tree appears mostly orange from a distance, but a close-up view reveals many other hues
We may not always have the Ash Trees with us. There is an exotic insect that's been destroying stands of Ash in the mid-west and it has been steadily making inroads in the Northeast. The insect is called the Emerald Green Borer, and on its own it has moving only about 5 miles a year, but traffic in firewood and other raw timber products is enabling the insect to spread much quicker into regions where it was never found before.

Green, to burgundy and finally to a deep brown at the very top of this Ash

This is about as red as a White Ash tree can get

This White Ash turned a shade of deep purple


  1. we hiked the woods with Maxine Stone in search of all things natural, and hopefully a few things fungal. Tree Nursery Co

  2. we hiked the woods with Maxine Stone in search of all things natural, and hopefully a few things fungal. Tree Nursery Co