Panning for Landscape Gold

In my last post I indicated that our colorful sugar maple foliage had peaked and would quickly succumb to wind and rain, possibly some wet snow. I was wrong. The foul weather didn’t arrive, and this week was more spectacular than last! This is why I don’t like the term ‘peak foliage color”. Autumn presents a continuum of changes in the landscape, subject to all sorts of environmental variables. It is a dynamic that is best left uncategorized.

Farms and woodlots, with dominant Sugar Maple in the distance; 10/23/15

I was on the road early (10/23/2015), excited about the bright morning glow and clear skies. The target was Sugar Maple – I wanted another shot at it and was panning for landscape gold!

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Flaming Foliage: the Peak!

Deciduous trees like White Ash, Red Maple and Yellow Birch initiate our fall foliage spectacle, while Quaking Aspen, Red Oak and others bring down the curtain – often aided by a thin but heavy layer of fresh snow. “Peak” foliage color, that brief period when panoramic views are most colorful and appealing to tourists, occurs somewhere in between. In Central New York, the timing and intensity of peak color is driven by one dominant species: Sugar Maple.

Locally, Sugar Maple foliage in the hills and farm woodlots peaked October 11 – 17, the approximate time frame that these images were recorded. Last night, a half inch of wet snow forced many leaves to the ground and moved us a bit closer to the next stage in the foliage festival: oak and aspen at Halloween!

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Early Autumn Foliage

Sweeping panoramic views of fall foliage with peak colors are a week or two away. However, many plants, species and varieties within species, are ahead of the curve. Red Maple, some Sugar Maples, White Ash, dogwoods and serviceberries are in this group.

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Sugar Maple

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Red-panicle Dogwood

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Red Maple

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Red Maple

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White Ash

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Serviceberry

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Forest Gold – American Beech

Blog posts reveal passions. In my case, one such passion is the Fagaceae. This is a plant family of about 600 trees and shrubs that includes the oaks, beeches and chestnuts. My fondness for the family is rooted in personal experiences with many of the species, in the context of several disciplines, and the countless attributes which those species possess. Exceptional timber, wildlife, landscape and aesthetic values. for example, led the National Arbor Day Foundation to select Quercus, the oaks, as our national tree (based on a nationwide, popular vote). 

Typically, species in these plant groups leaf out late in the spring and are among the last to change color and drop in autumn. It is not unusual for Beech, as well as some of the Oaks, to retain leaves well into the winter.

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Beech leaves after a Halloween (late October) snowfall

For this post, I’ve chosen a common, but threatened, species to illustrate the Fagaceae in autumn: American Beech (Fagus grandifolia).

Most of the colorful foliage in this photo is associated with small beech trees that have sprouted from the roots (root suckers) of larger trees  that are declining or dead. American Beech has been devastated throughout its geographic range by a disease complex called beech bark disease. When trees reach 8-10 inches or so in diameter, they are susceptible to a non-native beech scale insect which predisposes trees to the lethal effects of beech bark canker fungi. The large, overstory trees in the photo are mostly Sugar Maple and Eastern Hemlock.

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Beech understory of root sucker origin in a mixed hardwood-hemlock woodland

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Beech understory, in association with Red Oak, Eastern Hemlock and White Pine.

The bark of Beech is typically smooth and gray. The rough bark of this young tree is evidence of bark disease.

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Young American Beech tree

Peak fall foliage colors of American Beech (2)

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Fall foliage, American Beech

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Fall foliage, American Beech

This is the soft-spiny bur and three-sided nut of American Beech, an uncommon sight, even when trees were healthy. Beech only produces significant crops at 2-8-year intervals, and not until about age 40. Now, many trees  decline and die before they can produce significant quantities of seed. Countless animal species consume this nutritious fruit, called hard mast, including deer, bear, elk, squirrels, grouse, turkeys and Blue Jays.

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Beech fruit (on a Beech leaf); usually two, three-sided nuts in a soft-spiny bur

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Leaves and Landscapes

Recent wind, rain and falling temperatures have added a sense of urgency to my fall photography. The oaks and aspens are approaching peak foliage color, but many deciduous trees and shrubs now have a late fall, November look, i.e. bare or mostly so.

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Eastern Chipmunk caching food in its den under a pile of rotting firewood in a woodlot

I’ve created this gallery of images, past and present, in an attempt to capture and share the splendor of autumn in the Northeast.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Autumn Scenes

Peak fall foliage, fall foliage festivals and leaf-peeping tourists characterize the Northeast landscape in September and October. In reality, I rarely see an actual peak where all of the stars align and the foliage colors are all brilliant and in sync. This year, for example, many of the Sugar Maples lost their leaves early, without fanfare, or are more brownish yellow than golden yellow. A warm dry spell followed by wind and rain is their excuse.

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I ventured forth to do some leaf-peeping myself, mostly concentrating on rural landscapes, and have a few images that escaped the delete button.

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Photos by NB Hunter. ©  All Rights Reserved.