Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Color-Coded Forest--Nature's Halloween

This time of year, the forest does its own inverted version of Halloween. Rather than obscuring their identity behind costumes, the trees and shrubs reveal their inner identity. As the chlorophyll fades away, the leaves show each species' true colors, which had been there all along, hiding behind the green facade. These bold declarations make it suddenly easy to identify every bush and tree in the forest, near or far. In this photo, a small sweetgum tree shows its yellow, with Photinia behind it tending more towards brown, and the still green bush honeysuckle rising farther back. Flowering dogwood pokes in some burgundy at the top center of the photo.

Some species are tricky, varying their color depending on location. In front of the Princeton Shopping Center (no photo here), the winged euonymus shrubs lining the old gas station site turn brilliant red in full sun. Given less sunlight, as here, growing at the edge of the woods, they turn a modest pink.

In deep shade, their leaves turn white in the fall.

The native euonymus--Hearts-a-Bustin, which is currently extremely rare locally--also can turn this uncanny, ghostly white.

Very dramatic has been the Japanese maples growing next to the Veblen cottage out at Herrontown Woods, whose condition makes it seem to some a haunted house out in the forest.

The color coding can be useful for surveying the extent of species that are proving to be invasive, like this wisteria that's gone rogue around the Veblen House,

as well as for finding rarely occurring natives like this hazelnut, standing out from the surrounding honeysuckles.

Hazelnuts are real loners. There are three scattered specimens at Mountain Lakes, and only two found thus far in Herrontown Woods and vicinity.

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