Fall is Where You Find It

Blue poppy and snowy mountains.

You may be among those who have made the pilgrimage to the East Coast to see the legendary fall colors there, but you don’t have to go far to see beautiful foliage right here at home in Alaska, or wherever you live.

Layers of Vegetation

Tropical rain forest model.
The rain forest model shows the different layers of the forest. Ill.:, depositphotos

My perspective of forests is the rain forest model (pictured below). Start with the forest floor, then look up to the shrub layer or understory. Next comes the canopy and finally the emergent layer, which for us are the cottonwoods, Populus trichocarpa (which grow higher than the other trees). You may not like them because of their messy “cotton”, but their beautiful golden fall color and pleasing urn-shaped form make them easy to spot. They are generally the first to turn color.

Backllt Alaskan birch
Backlit Alaskan birch (Betula neoalaskana).

Below the emergent layer is the canopy, which includes birch, spruce and aspens. A different yellow color is found in this layer and offers a pleasing contrast mixed with the dark color of the coniferous trees on our mountainsides.

A row of Alaskan birches yellow in fall.
A row of Alaskan birches (Betula neoalaskana) creates a colorful canopy layer in the fall.

Best Colors Lower Down

Red Highbush cranberries along a path.
Highbush cranberry (Viburnum edule) lines this path.

The understory and forest floor is where you’ll find the most color, including red, orange, gold and pink. Here you’ll find the woody shrubs, like wild roses (Rosa acicularis), highbush cranberry (Viburnum edule) and red currants (Ribes triste). There are also herbaceous perennials such as devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus) and even cow parsnip (Heracleum lanatum). They too will be turning gold.

Woolly geranium leaf in fall color.
Woolly geranium (Geranium erianthum) with its stunningly colored fall leaves.

The forest floor is home to reds and oranges with the wild geranium (Geranium erianthum), Canada dogwood (Cornus canadensis: the Alaska Botanical Garden logo), fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) and the gold color of the ferns.

Canada dogwood with red fall leaves.
Canada dogwood (Cornus canadensis) in fall the Alaska Botanical Garden..

So, treat yourself to a drive, a hike in the mountains or a walk around a park or botanical garden to enjoy this beautiful season of color before it’s gone.

Unless otherwise mentioned, photos by Patrick Ryan

Patrick Ryan is an Alaska Master Gardener and the Education Specialist for the Alaska Botanical Garden. A retired elementary school teacher, Patrick is a member of the Anchorage Community Forest Council and sits on the board for Alaska Agriculture in the Classroom.

5 comments on “Fall is Where You Find It

  1. Pingback: Living in the Shadow of Others - Laidback Gardener

  2. Autumn is simply the best

  3. We are lucky to have this spectacular show out our back windows. My favourite view every morning as the sun rises.

  4. Love the colours of Autumn.

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