In honor of fall, I thought I would pick four trees that are just spectacular this year. I think we are having one of the prettiest fall seasons in a long while. Many trees, shrubs and even perennials are putting on a show right now. Leaves are falling in earnest, so it won’t last too much longer, so get out and enjoy the color.
Blackgum – Nyssa sylvatica, also called black tupelo, is a native deciduous tree and a great option for home gardens. It tends to grow much taller than wide,
reaching upwards of 60-70 feet tall but only about 20-30 feet wide. It is slow growing, especially when young while it establishes its roots, but with ample care it can get into its stride. It can form a strong taproot, so it is difficult to transplant when older. Start with a young tree. The plant is called polygamodioecious, a fancy word that means some trees have more male blooms than females, and vice versa,
but there are usually some perfect flowers (having both male and female parts) so it can produce fruit. When you hear “gum” you often think gum balls, but the fruit on the blackgum is a small bluish black berry and they are not related to sweetgums (Liquidambar). Blackgums are one of the first trees to turn color in the fall
and they hold their spectacular red color nicely.
Sugar maple – Acer saccharum is one of the showiest native, deciduous fall-foliaged trees,
and one of the main reasons people flock to the NE to see the fall colors.
Fall foliage can be red, orange or yellow, and sometimes all three, but whichever color it turns, it is in deep, rich shades.
It is the national tree of Canada and featured on its flag. It can grow up to 100 feet tall and 30 -40 feet wide, but they won’t grow that large in the south, where heat can be a limiting factor for plant success.
That being said, you will find beautiful specimens in central and southern Arkansas, but they are not as common. A southern sugar maple , Acer saccharum floridanum will take the heat and humidity of the south in stride better than the northern sugar maple but may not be as easy to find. Find a good spot and keep a sugar maple watered and it can be a beautiful specimen tree.
Chinese Pistache – Pistacia chinensis
is native to China and is a medium-sized deciduous tree, growing usually 25-40 feet tall and about as wide,
but will grow slowly and can tolerate a wide range of conditions. It is often used in parking lots and constricted places which it seems to tolerate well. The leaves are compound with 10-12 leaflets per leaf. Fall color can be beautiful shades of red. There are separate male and female trees. If you have one of each planted near enough, the female can produce clusters of berries that start off green,
then turn pinkish red and eventually a bluish-black. Although related to the edible pistachios, the fruit on the Chinese pistache is not edible, but is eaten by birds. When the trees are young, they can seem a bit sparsely branched, but will fill in over time.
Gingko – Gingko biloba
is one of the oldest living trees in the world. Fossils of the leaves have been found dating back to the time of the dinosaurs. Native to SE Asia, it was brought to the US in 1784. It has interesting fan-shaped simple leaves.
There are separate male and female plants, and you want a male plant, as the female trees produce fleshy fruits which are malodorous and messy.
The fruit is highly prized in other cultures and is eaten and used for medicine. Due to the odor, I can’t imagine eating any part of it! The tree can grow to be quite large over time (over 100 feet tall), but it is slow growing. In the first 10 years of life, it can seem like it hardly grows at all,
with very thin, sparse branches. Once it begins to mature, it will start to fill in and have a unique shape. The leaves turn brilliant yellow in the fall. A unique feature is that when it is ready to shed its leaves, it is almost as if Mother Nature flips a switch and they all shed at once. There are some new compact, dwarf varieties which do well in the ground or in large containers. Gingko's are a wonderful tree for the home landscape.