by Irene Skrybailo | October 2, 2014
Fall in New England.
These words conjure up memories of winds gently blowing colorful leaves to the ground: a kaleidoscope of warm reds, orange and yellows.
But the moniker “fall” doesn’t account for the full story. Leaves don’t just fall. They’re pushed!
As the days shorten after the autumnal equinox, trees begin to brace themselves for the upcoming harsh winters. They start producing a hormone that will wall-off the leaves, creating an “abscission layer” that will cut off all nutrients and water. The leaves will have only sugars to live on, and with no access to chlorophyll, they will slowly die.
As they succumb to the inevitable and lose their green coloring, the carotene (yellow) and anthocyanin (red) will become more visible. These are the colors we associate with autumn.
Not all trees produce vibrant colors. The most colorful are maple, gum, aspen and oak.
It’s not just trees that put on a colorful show in autumn. The color changes in shrubs, and vines operate under the same principle as trees. The shrubs are shutting down for winter, getting rid of extra leaves to preserve resources so they can make it through winter and live another year.
Burning bush (winged euonymus) is prized by some gardeners for its dynamic fall colors. It was introduced from Asia in 1860 as an ornamental plant and has been spreading into woodlands all over the US. We have it at Three Rivers Farm because it is historically significant to the garden. This particular plant dates back to the 1920s.
Silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) is a good native alternative to the winged euonymus. It has equally spectacular colors in fall and grows well in zones 5/6 in Connecticut.
So next time you’re hiking, biking, or visiting a historic garden — look up. The leaves are being sacrificed by the tree, but that means that they will be here again next year for our enjoyment.
Take pleasure and celebrate this by diving into a big pile of leaves! It’s all part of the “push” experience!
~ Irene Skrybailo, Master Gardener
Promisek at Three Rivers Farm