Autumn or fall? Whatever you call this season, it certainly is beautiful. The weather is mild and there is a softness about it. It’s like Mother Earth is getting ready to tuck us into bed.
In North America, we generally call this season fall. And it’s obvious where this word came from. Leaves “fall” in the fall. In Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand, they use the word autumn. We also use that term here, but mostly we use the word fall. Fall technically starts at the equinox that happens around Sept. 21; the exact date varies from year to year. Some think that fall starts at the end of summer on Labor Day. In Australia and New Zealand, fall, or rather autumn, starts in March, since those countries are below the equator.
Of course, Autumn is also a girl’s name; whereas fall is just fall.
Every year you’ll get an explanation for why plants that are deciduous, or that lose their leaves in winter, turn colors that range from yellow to orange and red. Pinks and purples are also possible. Deciduous plants usually come from colder climates, where it would be difficult to keep growing with limited sun and frozen water. Chlorophyll, which provides the green color in leaves, absorbs the energy from the sun to make food for the plants. They’ve stored energy in their wood during the summer, but in the fall, the chlorophyll production ceases. As the green disappears, we see other pigments that were previously hidden by the solar-powered green – the reds, oranges and all the colors that represent fall and autumn.
In the foothills, we had many native oaks drop some of their leaves after those intense heatwaves over the summer, which caused concern among some homeowners. In some cases, half of the leaves dropped on the ground while some turned half brown and half green; from a distance they looked dead, but were still very much alive. This is just a water conservation method the oaks have adapted to use when it gets scorching hot. The oaks intend to survive. Because of the extra rain over the most recent winter, the oaks put on a lot of new growth. With the heatwaves of summer, they had to drop a lot of leaves to balance out their need for water. It’s normal, and is more distressing to people than to the trees.
California is more of a wet/dry state rather than a cold/warm state like in the East, where many of our colorful fall trees come from. In the mountains, we have the gold of the quaking aspen, the pinks, yellows and reds of the western dogwoods and western redbuds. Other natives with yellow fall colors are big-leaf maples, red and white alders and cottonwoods. Ironically, one of the most colorful native shrubs is poison oak, which often flames in red and orange.
Still, with the use of irrigation water, an artificial water source for plants, we can pretty much grow whatever we want here in the Gold Country. Many kinds of deciduous oaks and maples, liquidambars, Chinese pistaches, flowering pears, crepe myrtles, birches, ginkgos, ashes, redbuds, dogwoods and even persimmons all flourish and provide us with a spectacular show of fall color.
There are dozens of shrubs that do the same thing, including blueberries, barberries, smoke trees, burning bushes, heavenly bamboo (which keeps its leaves but turns red anyway), Spirea and many more. They come from all over the world for us to enjoy.
All we have to do is look.
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