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
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.
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.
Best Colors Lower Down
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.
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.
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