The flaming foliage that fueled the tourist industry a month ago is now in the business of soil enrichment. The thick layer of leaves on the forest floor is already decomposing and adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil. The annual cycle is nearly complete, and all will benefit, from fungi and amphibians to the massive oaks and the wildlife that depend on them. Is there a better example of recycling? Doubt it.
Fortunately, Mother Nature is kind enough to return with an encore performance, giving nature lovers one more peak at colorful leaves before winter. Several tree species, the beeches, oaks, aspens and larches included, don’t show off their fall colors until late October and early November. This past week I photographed Quaking Aspen and American Beech in local woodlots to illustrate.
Beech, with a background of aspen
Aspen along the edge of a small stream
Beech on aspen
Aspen leaf adrift in the surface film of a small stream
Mature aspen, with years of snow and ice damage reflected in an irregular crown
In Central New York the bright yellows and golds of aspen leaves are most vivid around Halloween. I captured this stand along a favorite walking trail just before peak color, fearful that the weather might rule out a return visit and second chance.
Municipal trail; “Rails to Trails” program; Oriskany Falls, NY
In their “Textbook of Dendrology”, Harden, Leopold and White state: “Quaking aspen is the most widely distributed native tree species of North America and one of the most variable. Massive and very old clones (reaching ages of 1 million years) exist,….”. My interest and fascination with this remarkable species is based on its many attributes, including: pulpwood for paper manufacturing, wildlife habitat, an ecological role as a “pioneer” species on open and disturbed land, and autumn beauty. I’ve observed elk, deer and beaver browsing on aspen; Ruffed Grouse eating the flower buds in late winter; and numerous cavity-nesting birds using dead and declining trees. I stand in awe of the brilliant yellow-gold foliage against a bluebird sky on a crisp, fall morning.
The aspens signal the end of the fall foliage season, peaking in color in Central New York a few days either side of Halloween. Here, snow as well as wind and rain, influence the intensity and duration of the show. I think most would agree that the best images of aspen in autumn are taken in the Rocky Mountain region, where the combination of large, mature stands; brilliant colors and spectacular mountain scenery is breathtaking. I can’t begin to duplicate that. In fact, I struggle to capture the full beauty of natural stands in the East that are readily accessible to me! Still a work in progress, this post features images taken recently.
Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) is also called Trembling Aspen. The leaves have flattened stalks or petioles, causing them to “quake” or “tremble” in a breeze – as these were doing when the photo was taken: