Nature's fall color show can certainly vary in intensity and duration. Colors may be saturated or subdued, and might last months one autumn but only a few weeks the following year.
Yet fall's tones and times are predictable because the various plant species know their color range and place in the overall sequence. So when you choose trees and shrubs, ask "What color does it turn, and when?" With that information you can create brilliant combinations and also extend the show in your landscape.
The fall display may glow with gold, orange, red and the purplish red called maroon, from the tree tops all the way down to the perennial garden. Above, left to right: linden, hickory, sugar maple, serviceberry, red maple, and pin oak. Click on an image above for a closer look or a plant name on the list below for an image.
Many perennials can contribute to the fall color show, such as the perennial woodland wildflower at right, Solomon's seal (Polygonatum biflorum).
Below: Our list includes some shrubs which have reliable fall color. Burning bush is well known (below, left) but sweetspire (below, right) is as reliable but less well known. You may have seen a shrub from our list in fall and thought, "What a pretty tree!" since so many shrubs, including a number of those listed here, can grow to nearly 20' in height. Keep them in mind for places that need fall color but are too small for a tree.
Above, right: (a) Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) is a fitting companion to mums while privet (b) and mophead hydrangea (c) contribute little to the fall show.
Here are the colors of fall and plants likely to produce each hue.
The plants in each group are listed in order from those that are usually first to turn, to the latest. Most are trees; asterisks mark shrubs. "Occasional contributors" are species that are not known for stellar color but may sometimes shine.
Pardon our dust: We've created not only this over fall color tour but individual fall color galleries for most of the trees we listed while on our road trip. Yet there are still more to come. We are adding them as we can. If a tree you'd like to see in fall color is not yet linked here to its own gallery of extra images, let us know you're looking for it. We'll make it a priority.
You can also Sponsor this collection of pages and speed its completion! and note there that the topic you're endorsing is fall color!
ash (Fraxinus; see also maroon)
aspen (Populus tremuloides)
bittersweet vine (Celastrus)
summersweet* (Clethra alnifolia)
witchhazel*, spring blooming hybrids (Hamamelis x mollis; see also orange)
locusts (Gleditsia and Robinia)
silver maple and box elder (Acer saccharinum and A. negundo)
redbud (Cercis) (image at right)
bottlebrush buckeye* (Aesculus parvifolia)
American witchhazel/fall witchhazel* (Hamamelis virginiana)
weeping cherry and Kwanzan cherry (Prunus serrulata)
tulip tree, tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Norway maple (Acer platanoides)
full moon Japanese maple (Acer japonicum)
Occasional contributors in gold: Bittersweet vine, Catalpa, cottonwood (poplar), elm, grape vine, magnolia, mulberry, walnut, willow
Sassafras (image at right; a sassafras tree may show yellow, orange and red all at once)
sugar maple (Acer saccharum)
three-flower maple (Acer triflorum; may show maroon and gold, too)
Amur maple (Acer ginnala)
staghorn- and fragrant sumac* (Rhus)
black cherry/Michigan cherry (Prunus serotina; may vary to gold or maroon)
serviceberry (Amelanchier species; vary from orange to red)
Sargent cherry (Prunus sargentii)
sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
baldcypress (Taxodium distichum)
trident maple (Acer buergerianum)
red-leaf barberry* (Berberis)
dwarf spirea* (some Spiraea x bumalda varieties)
witchhazel, spring blooming hybrids* (Hamamelis x mollis; see also yellow)
parrotia (Parrotia persica)
dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)
smoke tree/smoke bush (Cotinus)
Chinese spicebush* (Lindera angustifolia)
callery pear (Pyrus calleryana; see also maroon)
paperbark maple (Acer griseum)
Japanese maples (Acer japonicum, A. palmatum, A. shirashawanum, by variety;
see also red and gold)
Occasional contributors in orange and butterscotch: Red horsechestnut
red maple and red-silver hybrid maples (Acer rubrum and Acer x freemanii)
Virginia creeper and Boston ivy (Parthenocissus quinquefolia and P. tricuspidata)
shining sumac* (Rhus coppalina)
burning bush* (Euonymus alatus)
sourwood/lily of the valley tree (Oxydendrum arboreum)
scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea)
Japanese maple (Acer palmatum; see also orange and gold)
Occasional contributors in red: Pin oak, red oak
(Some years some viewers might see these as red)
white ash (some varieties of Fraxinus pensylvanica)
flowering dogwood Cornus florida, image at right)
various viburnums* (doublefile Viburnum mariesii followed by tea viburnum, V. setigera, then arrowwood V. dentatum and cranberrybushes V. trilobum and V. opulus, etc.)
chokecherry (Prunus virginiana; may vary to gold or maroon)
black gum (Nyssa sylvatica, may vary from red to maroon)
white oak group (white Quercus alba, burr oak Q. macrocarpa, etc.)
callery pear (Pyrus calleryana; see also orange)