Although the maple trees have, for the most part, shed their leaves, there is still plenty of color to see in our landscape. The oak trees hold onto their leaves much later in the season and turn a wide array of fall colors. I actually look forward to the oak leaf color each fall. There is a huge white oak above the lime flower cobble along the walking trails that turns a deep purple. I love the color of this tree – it is very distinctive among the trees there. I also notice the small red oaks that line the Monson-Wales Road – these turn a nice deep cranberry red color. Some often say that we have “passed peak” foliage season once the maples drop their leaves, but I think this is when the best of the colors start.
Oaks have moved northward into our forests over the last 100 – 150 years. Although they have always been a forest component here in the northeast, they used to share that space with the American chestnut. When the chestnut blight arrived in the early 1900’s, these trees began to disappear from the landscape. Oaks moved in and took their place. We know that oaks were more dominant to the south – in the mid-Atlantic. The reason their leaves take longer to turn and fall is because they were adapted to a longer growing season. Young trees will sometimes keep their leaves through much of the winter. Oaks also provide an important food source for many wildlife species. Deer, turkey, squirrels and chipmunks all eat the acorns. More species of caterpillars use oak trees as larval food than any other single tree.
The summer drought and the warm temperatures of fall have had some impact on the vibrant colors of fall, but there is still a nice fall color display to see out there. Now is a great time to take a walk and observe the trees. Don’t feel like you have missed out on our peak foliage season – there is still plenty out there to enjoy.