It’s mid-October in central Indiana, and that means fall leaf color is gearing up for going full swing. Driving down any highway it seems clear that maples make the biggest impression, but take a stroll through the IMA’s gardens and Art & Nature Park and you’ll quickly notice there are many other plants that are praiseworthy as we approach the end of October and beginning of November. Represented here is a small handful of what will be changing their stripes over the next several weeks.
While Oriental spicebush (Lindera angustifolia) doesn’t have many frills the rest of the year, it captures this season perfectly with its stunning display of reds and oranges that set off the fruit like small black pearls when the light catches them. Every fall I get sucked in trying to capture the fiery perfection of the leaves from up close with my camera, but no photograph can truly substitute for the sheer marvel of coming across these beauties on a crisp, autumn day’s stroll.
Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) is an herbaceous perennial, but by this point in the season it carries the same weight as a mounded shrub. This thing practically wears a halo when it glows on rainy, overcast days.
Both in the gardens and at the Art & Nature Park, winterberry (Ilex verticillata) shows off not only golden leaves, but an even more impressive load of poppy-red and coral berries that make great bird candy. The berries begin coloring up much earlier while the leaves are still green, but will persist, as long as the birds allow, long after the leaves have dropped and cold weather has moved in to stay.
Another plant that is frequently seen along the highway is staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), which is an Indiana native that thrives in tough soil conditions and provides lovely masses of red and orange for fall road trips. But let’s not forget some of the other native sumacs that are just as stunning without being quite as prolific. Shining sumac (Rhus copallina) brings in a different color palette than the others with its rich, purple-hued reds, while fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) transitions into a low-growing carpet mirroring similar shades of the orangey-red of the staghorn sumac.
Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora) is one of those rare garden shrubs that look great year-round, but if a “best” season needed to be determined I would have to pick fall. It has enough orange to make it noticeable among the many yellows of the season, yet is soft enough to blend well with just about anything with which it is paired. Fitting into nearly any type of landscape, this plant will always find it has my undying devotion as a lovely and deserving specimen.
One shrub that requires both space and patience to develop is bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora), but it is well worth the wait. It provides both a stunning floral display at a time in the summer when few other shrubs are blooming, and a vibrant yellow tapestry in the fall that may serve as either a backdrop for other fall fancies or proudly star, front and center. Either way it is a showstopper.
Oh, boy, is this one inspiring! Redbud hazel (Disanthus cercidifolius) is not commonly used and may be mistaken for common redbud when its leaves are green, but it makes its presence known in the fall when its heart-shaped leaves turn a deep burgundy-red that echoes the marvel of sweetgum and pagoda dogwood. As an understory shrub, it doesn’t even need sun to bring out the best of its colors, and as icing on the cake, when the leaves drop on this little gem the small, deep red flowers along the stem are exposed as the season moves from fall into winter.
Over the next month if you’re looking for a place to take in the glory of the changing season, look no further than the IMA’s backyard and come lose yourself in the heady glow of a living, picture-perfect color palette.