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Fall color from native trees     Send a link to a friend

[OCT. 1, 2004]  URBANA -- The autumn landscape can be a rich, vibrant tapestry of low-maintenance trees if homeowners make the right choices when buying plants and placing them in the yard, said Barbara Bates, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator based in Kane County.

"For the larger, more open spaces in your yard, it would be hard to beat a black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica)," she said. "This tree is also known as a black gum. At maturity it has a pyramidal form reaching to 50 feet. Its picturesque, crooked branches lend it a rugged look. Black gum has a reliable golden to scarlet red fall color. The fruit is a blue berry that has moderate value as a food source for birds.

"Black gum prefers a slightly acid soil and is adaptable to sun or part shade, preferring moist soil but tolerating dry. It is hardy to zone 4, which extends into southern Wisconsin. In summer, this tree presents a rounded, somewhat open form in the landscape, displaying glossy green leaves."

For a shimmer of gold, Bates recommends quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides). It is native to open areas and transitions zones where the woodland meets the prairie. Aspen prefers moist soils in full sun. The tree grows quickly, reaching 50 feet at maturity. In summer the broad leaves whisper and dance in the breeze. In winter, the creamy white bark adds contrast against evergreens and brick. Aspen naturalize well in groves.


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"Two smaller accent trees that have outstanding fall color are witch hazel and wahoo," she said. "Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a rounded, open small tree reaching 20 feet in height and growing slightly broader. In addition to rich lemony golden-colored foliage, this small tree produces a starlike fragrant bloom in fall. Witch hazel is intolerant of full sun and dry soil, preferring moist soils and partial shade. It is exceptionally pest-resistant. Several types of birds eat the seed."

Wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus) is a must for those who seek something unique for their landscape. "While this plant is relatively common in the wild, it has been largely overlooked in the trade,  in favor of its cousin burning bush (E. alatus)," Bates said. "Unlike its showy crimson cousin, wahoo turns a brilliant warm fuchsia pink in fall. Its growth habit is an open tree form to 20 feet. The shiny red seeds are borne in bright fuchsia pink capsules that dangle from the branches well into winter. The stems remain green until they are several years old. Wahoo makes an excellent understory tree or a large multistem shrub."

Bates said that these native trees will add interesting texture and form to your landscape year-round, but in fall they will be the envy of the neighborhood.

For additional information, contact the local Extension office or visit Extension's tree website at www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/treeselector/.

[University of Illinois news release]

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