Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Oaks among the Highlights of Fall

Black oak, Quercus velutina
Justin Evertson 

                Although November signals that winter and all its cold, gray dullness is just around the corner, it can be a great time to enjoy and celebrate the landscape around us. In fact, a warm November day can be one of the best times of the year to be outdoors. The air is crisp and easy to breathe and is often filled with the distinct aroma of fallen leaves. The allergens are on the wane and the mosquitoes are mostly dead. Which helps us better enjoy a landscape that is often washed with a dizzying variety of textures and colors from tans and browns to oranges, reds, purples and greens.
                November is often the month when many oak trees are their most colorful. Pin oak and red oak almost always give reliable orange-red displays. White oak provides a very distinctive and long-lived dusty-red. Scarlet oak and shumard oak seem to be on fire with their bright red hues. Even the tans of chinkapin oak and shingle oak are attractive. Perhaps my favorite fall leaf color is the orange-red of the black oak. This underused native tree shines all year long with shimmering pink leaves in spring followed by glossy green leaves all summer. The great fall color seems to hold well into December and even the winter is made more tolerable by the tree's attractive blocky bark.  
                A nice attribute of several oaks including black oak, white oak and shingle oak, is that their leaves are reliably marcescent (most of the leaves do not fall off, but are held tightly by the tree throughout the winter). Other oaks that hold their leaves, though less reliably, include swamp white oak, red oak and pin oak. Such trees provide several benefits including winter wind protection and reliable cover for birds. Perhaps best of all, especially for lazy people like me, is that less leaf raking is needed under such trees. 

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