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Don’t be afraid of those Ghostberries

Ghostberry (Symphoricarpos), Green Creek Trail (10/4/20) Lyle Gordon

Boo! It’s October, so naturally we have to haunt this site with an apparition of ghostberry leaves, commonly known as snowberries or waxberries, though we prefer “ghostberry” during October.

Color spotter Lyle Gordon was hiking the Green Creek Trail in Mono County when these ghostberry leaves appeared.

Symphoricarpos is a deciduous shrub, native to western China, North and Central America and a member of the honeysuckle family. Its nickname refers to its fruit clusters of white berries.

  • Snowberry plants, Green Creek Trail, Mono County (7,500′) – Peak to Past Peak (75-100%) GO NOW, You Almost Missed It!

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Serviceberries at Big Bear

Surrounding the town of Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains, the national forest is officially closed, but a forest closure does not mean the trees stop what they do naturally.

Fall color is Patchy (10-50%) at Big Bear Lake, though serviceberry bushes, as local color spotter Trent Vierra found, are Near Peak.

Trent took these from the forest hillside behind his cabin in the Moonridge area. He admits that his “little hillside seems to be much farther along than other areas, probably due to it being north-facing. The serviceberry bushes on the hillside, which are pictured, are very golden, while the one by our deck is more green. Black oak, also pictured, on the hillside are about 40% changed into their beautiful autumn russet color.

“Elsewhere around town, the bigleaf maple and some cottonwood are starting to turn, about 40% or less as well. On the drive up the 330, some willows and ferns are beginning to change and there are cool, shaded pockets, especially after the dam on the way into town, where there is some really great golden color in the deciduous ground cover,” Trent posted in a very thorough and appreciated report.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier), deciduous shrubs within the rose family, have beautifully delicate blossoms in springtime and the Autumn Brilliance variety is rich with deep orange and red in fall. The shrub needs little care or attention, though occasional pruning will accentuate its form and remove dead, crossing or dry stems.

  • Big Bear Lake (6,752′) – Patchy (10-50%)
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California Poplar

Black cottonwood, Jenkinson Lake (9/25/20) John Poimiroo

California poplar, better-known as black cottonwood (Populus balsamifera spp. trichocarpa), are often confused with Frémont cottonwood (Populus fremontii spp. fremontii).

It’s easy to mistake these siblings from a distance, as their size, bark, shape and colorations are similar, but look closely at their leaves and the difference is evident.

Black cottonwood have a darker, spear-pointed leaf, while Frémont cottonwood have a lighter-green, heart-shaped leaf, similar to aspen but with a toothy edge. Black cottonwood are the only poplar with willow-like leaves, though unlike willow, which are not aromatic, California poplar emit a strong odor from their buds in springtime.

The young specimen (pictured above) stands in a parking lot near Jenkinson Lake in Sly Park (Sierra Nevada, El Dorado County – US 50). It was planted there, though black cottonwood grow naturally near water. They thrive beside rushing streams “where water, rich in oxygen,” Jim Paruk writes in Sierra Nevada Tree Identifier, “speeds their growth.”

Native to both the east and west slope of the Sierra Nevada, black cottonwood are more often found on the west slope, growing up to 6,000 feet. However, the finest example of California poplar is found along Pine Creek, north of Bishop (Inyo County), where dense groves line the creek, as they have for millennia.

Cottonwood will peak after aspen do, because California poplar grow – on average – well below the 10,000′ upper limit for aspen. Cottonwood also lack the varied red, pink, orange, yellow and lime that appear in peaking aspen. They are uniformly gold at peak and thus aren’t photographed as often, though they have poignant sculptural beauty and are more widely dispersed.

Unlike aspen (which are limited to the Eastern Sierra, San Bernardino mountains and Cascades at elevations from 6,000′ to tree line), cottonwood are found throughout California, typically below 7,000′.

Within the two varieties, black cottonwood grow to the highest elevations (some as high as 9,000′), while Frémont cottonwood aren’t usually seen above 5,000′. Elevation is a good way to tell if the cottonwood is black or Frémont, at least until you can get close enough to see its leaf.

Presently, both California poplar and Frémont cottonwood are Just Starting (0-10%), but look for them to peak beginning in two weeks and continuing into December in Southern California drainages (i.e., Big Tujunga Canyon).

  • Jenkinson Lake (3,400′) – Just Starting (0-10%)

Flowers and Fruit

Strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, El Dorado Hills (11/7/19) John Poimiroo

The Strawberry Tree, Arbutus unedo, is one of a few ornamental trees that carry both flowers and fruit in autumn.

The exotic evergreen is native to the western Mediterranean and produces a sweet, fragile fruit used in jams, folk medicines (astringent, diuretic, urinary anti-septic, antiseptic, intoxicant, rheumatism, tonic, and to relieve hypertension and diabetes) and as the fruit in Portuguese medronho, a powerful eau de vie (fruit brandy).

What’s lovely about the tree during November are its delicate blossoms and brightly toned yellow, orange and crimson berries.

Point Lobos Orange

Trentepohlia aurea, Pt Lobos State Park (11/1/19) Susan Hanlon

It covers the trunks and branches of oaks and Monterey Cypress with an orange flocking.

Trentepohlia aurea is filamentous terrestrial green alga whose orange coloration comes from carotenoid pigments in its cells.

Susan Hanlon was visiting Point Lobos State Park on the Monterey Peninsula when she was impressed by its bold orange display.

Point Lobos is most famous for Trentepohlia, though the alga is commonly found in humid areas along the California coastline including the San Francisco Bay Areas, Great Britain and Ireland.

Although not technically an autumn color, it shares orange carotenoid pigments with autumn leaves.


Going, Going, Gone

Going, 50/50 Tree, Quincy Airport (10/14/19) Robert Kermen
Going, 50/50 Tree, Quincy Airport (10/20/19) Jeff Luke Titcomb
Gone, 50/50 Tree, Quincy (10/29/19) Jeff Luke Titcomb

The 50/50 Tree, so-called because – when first noticed by Robert Kermen – it appeared to be one tree that was half Just Starting and half Peaking, has now gone Past Peak.

After Kermen’s discovery, the tree was revealed by Jeff Luke Titcomb to be side-by-side mountain maples. However, we also learned that this phenomenon can happen in circumstances where the sunny side has peaked and the shaded side has not.

It’s another of the weird discoveries of Autumn 2019.

50/50 Tree Update

Half Peak, Half Past (10/20/19) Jeff Luke Titcomb

A week earlier than the above photograph was taken, we posted a photograph taken by Robert Kermen of the side-by-side Mountain Maples, one peaking, the other still green.

Here’s what the trees look like as of Oct. 20.

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Blinded to the Light

Mountain maple, Quincy Airport (10/12/19) Robert Kermen

Sometimes, we’re blinded to the light, revved up by the cold, a color spotter in the night.

Paraphrasing Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics, we are often more influenced by popular belief than scientific fact.

In color spotter Robert Kermen’s case, he was blinded to the light, not knowing that it had a greater influence on fall color change than temperature.

He wrote when submitting this report, “I used to think that a leaf’s turning color was triggered by temperature or colder air flow, but when I saw this tree I knew that was only part of it. Just like fruit trees, the side that gets the most sunlight, has the riper fruit. Except that in the case of leaf coloring, the side that gets the most sunlight in the fall turns color first.”

The revelation happened when he saw this unusual tree and confirmed his “aha moment,” when he read Brent Cook’s article, How A Tree Grows.

Cook states, “If you’ve ever seen a tree that has green leaves on one side and red, orange, or yellow leaves on the other, it was probably a result of different amounts of sunlight. In the northern hemisphere, leaves that are on the southwest side of a tree will receive much more sunlight than leaves on the opposite side. Leaves near the top of a tree will also receive more sunlight than leaves at the bottom of the canopy. Consequently, phytochrome (photoreceptors) will trigger abscission (fall color) sooner in leaves getting more sunlight.”

Note that in the above photograph, the shaded side of the tree (left) is still green, whereas the side in the sunlight (right) has turned color. It’s counterintuitive, but a fact of nature. Why that is true, is not entirely clear to me.

Could it be that the sunlit side of the tree senses the change in autumn light waves sooner than that in the shade? We’ll let a dendrologist answer that.

In the meantime, the below photograph answers the question. Jeff Luke Titcomb took it from behind the fence to reveal: it isn’t one tree with two sides, it’s two trees whose canopies have merged.

It is a mystery solved to everyone’s embarrassment. Though, because of Bob’s inquisitiveness, we learned something new about the possibilities that a tree could have two fall color sides, because of light.

Two trees in one, Quincy Airport (10/14/19) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Bob was returning to the Northern Sacramento Valley by way of the Beckwourth Pass (5,221′) (named after legendary mountain man James Beckwourth; his is an extraordinary story) and CA-70 along the Feather River. Color is near peak throughout most of the route.

  • Feather River, CA-70 – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
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The Holly and The Ivy

Boston Ivy, Scripps College, Claremont (11/30/18) Kaiyuan Chen

Holly standeth in the hall fair to behold, 
Ivy stands without the door; she is full sore a cold

Holly and his merry men, they dancen and they sing;
Ivy and her maidens, they weepen and they wring.

Ivy hath a lybe, she caught it with the cold,
So may they all have, that with Ivy hold.

Holly and ivy have been linked together for many centuries, though they are quite different plants. The Holly is a tree, Ivy a vine.

Owlcation.com tells us, that used as a mythological symbol ivy was associated with the Ancient Greek god of wine, Dionysus who often wore a crown of ivy.

English ivy grew abundantly over the childhood home of Dionysus, the mythic mountain Nysa. To the middle ages, ivy was associated with alcoholic beverages, often hung from an alepole or alestake outside a tavern to indicate that the establishment served wine or ale.

The expression “Good wine needs no bush,” meaning that something of merit needs no advertisement, comes from a bunch of ivy being called a bush. In other words, good wine needs no alepole, as word of mouth will establish its quality.

In “The Holly and the Ivy,” a traditional Christmas carol, holly is mentioned throughout, but ivy is mentioned only in the first and last verse, almost as an afterthought.

Ivy certainly is no afterthought at American colleges, where ivy-covered walls have become synonymous with prestigious education. The practice of growing ivy over the brick walls of northeastern colleges, evolved to their sports teams being described as within The Ivy League.

Other universities and colleges adopted the horticultural practice growing climbing vines of Boston Ivy, Parthenocissus tricupidata, and English Ivy, Hedera helix, on their walls as verdant symbols of higher education.

Scripps College, Claremont (11/30/18) Kaiyuan Chen

At Scripps, a renowned women’s college in Claremont, Calif., Boston Ivy climbs the walls, providing late autumn color.

Kaiyuan Chen reports that the vine – which is from China not from Boston – and the school’s other deciduous trees and shrubs now vary from Peak to Past Peak.

That’s appropriate, as it’s almost time to sing … 

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir 
  • Claremont Colleges, Claremont – Peak to Past Peak, You Almost Missed It.
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November ends, not the color

LA County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, Arcadia (11/28/18) Frank McDonough

Today is the last day of November, but there’s still another 20 days of autumn ahead.

Frank McDonough of the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden demonstrates what’s ahead in today’s post.

California’s arboreta and botanic gardens are in their own, presently, with holiday displays blending with final bursts of fall color. To find an arboretum near you, CLICK HERE

  • Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, Arcadia – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!