'Round These Mountains

Color Georgia’s Mountains Brilliant

Native pagoda dogwoods are our Chattahoochee Forest’s fashion icons. Trust them to lead the season with radiant white blooms heralding spring in the woodland understory, then offering choice nesting sites beneath their fluttering tiers of summer foliage. Too soon these graceful trees are whispering of the mountain autumn to come as leaves begin bronzing in late August, distinguishing themselves in regal burgundy at the peak of fall color, and twinkling through winter as birds feast on red berries at the tips of sculpted branches.

The dogwoods crescendo in early October, with notes of orange and red appear in the sweetspire, and black walnuts releasing their bright yellow leaves to reveal the green husks of their nuts. Meanwhile, the hickories begin to trend from lemon to gold, as do locust and beeches as those two compete for earliest leaf drop. By mid-October our glorious maples are stealing the spotlight in their glowing transition from green to scarlet by way of brilliant yellows and oranges.   

As peak week approaches our sourwoods are shivering with the scarlet coursing through their green leaves. Chestnut oaks offer muted color but share fat, handsome acorns. The more subtle butternuts, our white walnut trees, are said to end their Appalachian range here. Fickle persimmons vary their seasonal shows, some years bursting into orange that rages to deep red, other years anonymously shedding nondescript leaves as though protesting the autumn pageant.

Magnificent white oaks are often reported to exhibit wine-colored leaves in October. Ours are always the last trees to turn as they deepen, but to a coppery brown. Here, those leaves hold until new growth pushes them off in spring. The leaves of our plantings of Natchez crepe myrtles (unmurdered still, Steve!) usually bronze about now, but this varies from one grouping to the next. Added oakleaf hydrangeas are also happy here, their hues from orange to purple rival the maples’ glory.

Last year it seemed conditions were perfect here for a spectacular fall—little rain in September which some say will muddy the colors, several crisp nights to shift the leaf sugars to “bright,” but then a hard freeze at the peak that perhaps closed the show early. So enjoy every tree’s performance as you pass. Each is its own masterwork.