A Touch of Scarlet

October 19, 2014  autumn 010

What is your favorite autumn color? 

A preposterous question, I know.  Sort of like, “Which is your favorite child?” or “Where is your favorite beach?”

Each autumn color has its own place in the progression, and its own astounding beauty.

October 19, 2014 fall color 026

Just as the bare branches against a winter sunset display an elegance all their own.

But,  early in the season, I am always delighted to find a touch of scarlet amidst the still mostly green forest.

Euonymus alatus, known as Burning Bush, begins to turn scarlet in late summer.

Euonymus alatus, known as Burning Bush, begins to turn scarlet in early autumn.  These shrubs, common in our community, crop up as “volunteers” in wooded areas.  Originally imported from Asia, it is considered an invasive species in many areas along the East Coast of the United States.

 

Scarlet jumps out from the masses with its invitation to revel in the pleasures of autumn:  Fresh apples, freshly pressed cider, pumpkins, and woodsmoke on the evening breeze.

Birds enjoy the Euonymus berries, and we enjoy its scarlet leaves.

Birds enjoy the Euonymus berries, and we enjoy its scarlet leaves.

 

And much of the scarlet in our early fall landscape appears from the incidental “wild” things we might not even plant in our gardens:  Virginia  Creeper and other vines, Staghorn Sumac, “The Devil’s Walking Stick” tree, and native Dogwoods.

Dogwood

Dogwood berries feed migrating birds over many weeks.

 

I believe it is in some way a reward for allowing these wild native plants space in our gardens.

Even Poison Ivy turns scarlet each autumn.

Even Poison Ivy turns scarlet each autumn.  Although it creates a terrible rash when we touch it, Poison Ivy is an important plant for birds and nectar loving insects.

 

We  watch for these gorgeous reds as we drive around Williamsburg, deeply satisfied with every sighting of scarlet.

Virginia Creeper lights up this tree on the Colonial Parkway

Virginia Creeper lights up this tree on the Colonial Parkway

They preview the beauty about to unfold as our forests blaze into color.

We heard, earlier this week on the Weather Channel, that our  forecast for  peak fall color has been pushed back to early November this year.

That would be the latest ever for peak color in central Virginia; at least in modern times.

Staghorn Sumac sports scarlet leaves and burgundy berries.

Winged Sumac,  Rhus copallina, sports scarlet leaves and burgundy berries.

 

A friend and I discussed the strange autumn weather  as we inspected her Passiflora vine, showing new growth and tiny flower buds, this afternoon.

There are Paperwhite flowers already in full bloom on our street.  A strange sight indeed, this early in the season, before our first frost. 

October 19, 2014 fall color 038

What has caused the strange timing of our seasons this year?  Is it the  pole shift?  Climate change?   Radiation in the atmosphere?

We are both keen observers of the unfolding seasons.

 

Pineapple sage lights up our garden in October.

Pineapple sage lights up our garden in October.

 

And we’re wondering whether it is still too early to plant our daffodil bulbs this year.  There’s talk of some afternoon temperatures close to 80 degrees for us next week….

October 19, 2014 fall color 039

But some of the Sumacs have already dropped their leaves.  And the trees across the creek get a bit brighter with each passing day.

Looking across College Creek this morning, watching it get a bit brighter each day.

Looking across College Creek this morning, watching it get a bit brighter each day.

 

The Dogwood berries shine scarlet in the sunshine, and I have faith that this touch of scarlet will soon spread far and wide as autumn comes suddenly upon us once again.

October 19, 2014 fall color 082

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

Paperwhites in bloom on October 15.

Paperwhites in bloom on October 15.

 

Advertisements

Burning Bush

Nove,mber 21 garden 004

The burning bush in our front border

November 22 2013 parkway 001

A neighbor’s garden has several mature, beautiful Euonymus alatus shrubs near the street.

“What is that red bush?” we wondered, our first autumn in our new neighborhood.  We spotted brightly scarlet shrubs all over the neighborhood on our walks, including a huge one in our own front border.  This was such a beautiful attention grabbing plant, and we were both unfamiliar with it.  We enjoyed the bright leaves and the tiny red seeds, much loved by our birds.

We noticed the leaves beginning to change in October, and for a few short weeks the shrub became the brightest thing in our garden.  By mid December the leaves had blown away, leaving only berries still clinging here and there to the branches.

A neighbor's Burning Bush has already lost most of its leaves.

A neighbor’s Burning Bush has already lost most of its leaves.

We now have a total of six of these bright shrubs in our front garden.  One is large and broad and dominates the border.  The others are much, much, smaller; still struggling for existence against the appetites of ravenous deer.  We’ve realized that if a shrub can survive long enough to grow taller than the deer can reach, it has a chance at survival.

This shrub, brought to the United States from Asia in the 19th century for its beautiful fall foliage, is known as Euonymus alatus.  Native to northeastern China, Japan, and Korea, it has naturalized in parts of the United States.  Commonly known as “Burning Bush”, it is closely related to Euonymus Americanus, which is also known as, “American Strawberry Bush.”  Both have beautiful red foliage in autumn.

This photo of our burning bush was taken November 2, when it was beginning to color for the season.

This photo of our burning bush was taken November 2, when it was beginning to color for the season.

Euonymus Americanus has large red fruit capsules, which somewhat resemble a strawberry before they split open to reveal the red seeds inside.  Native to the southeastern United States from Texas to New York, this shrub is an understory plant in woodlands, and grows smaller than Euonymus alatus.  Topping out at only around 6′ tall, its growth is often described as spindly.  It is nice in a naturalized setting, but is not a sought after ornamental shrub.

Euonymus alatus can grow up to 20′ tall according to some sources.  It is usually wider than it is tall.  Our largest shrub is very “leggy” at the bottom, and only widens out to a full shrub several feet off of the ground.

One of our "volunteer" burning bush shrubs, is surviving despite frequent grazing from the deer.

One of our “volunteer” burning bush shrubs, is surviving despite frequent grazing from the deer.

That may be due to deer nibbling rather than the shrub’s natural habit.  Although this shrub has beautiful fall foliage, and is still available for sale at nurseries, it is considered an invasive plant in many states in the Northeastern United States.  Because its seeds are popular with birds, it gets sown far and wide.  In fact, I suspect that all of the specimens in our garden began as volunteer seedlings which have survived.

Burning Bush grows in full sun to partial shade in neutral, to slightly acidic humus rich soil.  They like moisture and grow much better when the soil is constantly moist.  Their new leaves and flowers appear in spring, but the flowers are barely noticeable.  The shrub blends in and is unremarkable for most of the season.  Only when the leaves begin to turn scarlet does it draw attention to itself.

Close up of the foliage of an Euonymus alatus.

Close up of the foliage of an Euonymus alatus.

Burning Bush is the sort of volunteer shrub which tends to colonize disturbed land and the edges of woodland.  Since it is easy to grow, it often forms dense thickets as seedlings grow up around the original shrubs.  It needs no specific care other than some pruning.

In fact, it is a poor choice to grow near drives or walkways since it can eventually grow to 15′ wide, or more.  Some homeowners with mature shrubs find that it needs frequent pruning to keep it in bounds, and then it looks rather awkward.

Dwarf cultivars are available on the market now.  This shrub is not yet considered an invasive plant in Virginia.  If you love scarlet autumn foliage, you might consider planting this shrub in your garden.  We certainly enjoy ours, and I would be happy to have more turn up in our naturalized areas.  Their bright red foliage is still very cheerful, as so many of our other leaves have fallen, leaving thickets of bare branches.

Here are some other trees and shrubs which sport bright red foliage in autumn in the Williamsburg area, just in case you’re still trying to figure out for yourself, “What is that red bush?”

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 671 other followers

Follow Forest Garden on WordPress.com
Order Classic Caladiums

This Month’s Posts

Topics of Interest