‘Fall’ foliage on some plants carries on
By Jimmy Williams
Posted: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 8:00 pm
Astronomical winter is a little more than two weeks old, but de facto winter is a third gone. December, January and February, for all practical purposes, comprise our winter.
We had scads of bloom in December, usually the hardest month to get it. Late lingerers (i.e. Korean mums) were still about, and precocious early spring flowers came in ahead of time. Blame, or give credit to, Al Gore.
Generally, however, in most years we are depending, at the early January juncture, on evergreens to cheer us, when there is otherwise a paucity of cheer to be had. Think foul weather, the flu, Christmas bills flooding in, and tax forms in the mail.
There is no minimizing the value of evergreens, especially broad-leafs, in winter. Southern magnolias and hollies, particularly, with their glossy foliage, reflect even minimal sunlight available.
There are, also, many winters, like this one, when a number of plants, woody and herbaceous, that in more severe years go down to freeze, are still showing attraction.
I think of oak leaf hydrangeas. They exhibit red, maroon and purple fall foliage that is perhaps even more valuable than the summer flowers. This year their leaves still are showing off. That is not too unusual, come to think of it.
We have several stands of Virginia sweetspire, Itea virginica, here and there in our woodland. Again, the summer spires of flowers are valuable, but the “fall” color, with hues reflecting the oak leaf hydrangeas, is outstanding. Except in the most frigid winters, it carries on well into January, as it has this year. Much more valuable than, say, the ubiquitous “burning bush,” which colors briefly.
Several viburnums, though generally deciduous, hold leaf color very late. Most notable among them are varieties of Viburnum dilatatum the linden viburnum. Many are named for Indian tribes, i.e. Erie, Iriquois, etc. We have Choctaw (I think it is) that looms, at 12 feet or so, up behind a wood fence. Spring bloom is nice, but not as valuable as fall, and into winter, color. The leaves are just shedding as we speak, after exhibiting a good red since October.
Another good viburnum, a hybrid, Burkwoodii is good at lengthy fall and winter color, too.
A caveat, however, is in order. The leatherleaf virburnum, popular for its plates of dingy white flowers, holds its foliage in the green state well into — sometimes all the way through — winter. The leaves hang down, like donkey tails, in a sorry, half frozen state, until it is relief for them to be pushed off by new ones in April.
Not so beech trees. Though the leaves of young beeches (up to 20 feet or so) turn brown, then parchment, at the onset of fall, they hold them right through the winter, until they are ultimately replaced by new green ones in spring. They will be understory trees for many years, until they finally gain enough stature to compete with oaks and others.
These young beeches are a striking sight where they are plentiful, as they often are, brightening the surrounding flat gray. A fine stand is seen on the 218 Bypass, in a lowland just north of Castleton Cove.
Barberries are known for fall color, but some of them hold into winter. We have two specimens of Orange Rocket barberry, a fairly new introduction. They have, yes, orange foliage in summer that morphs into red in fall. They have held until just a week or so ago, a striking sight. Orange Rocket is a strict vertical grower to five feet or so, an orange relative of the maroon Helmond’s Pillar, which does not color so brightly in fall.
Just one herbaceous plant to show you. There are others that could be mentioned. The common bedding plant, dusty miller, has fine filagreed foliage that strikingly contrasts with just about everything. In old winters, it would be frozen out at the first instance of 10 degrees or so, but in recent times it has lived over and exhibited those excellent leaves right on through the winter. They, in fact, get even whiter with cold weather. We have some in a strawberry pot that are now in their second winter, and are almost pure white.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack: Three cheers for Al Gore.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is the garden writer at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Mondays at (731) 642-1162.
Published in The Messenger 1.8.13