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Apple Harvest

Oak Glen (10/12/18) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (10/12/18) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (10/12/18) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (10/12/18) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (10/12/18) Alena Nicholas

As American as … Apple Hill, Julian and Oak Glen.

These California apple harvest destinations are famous for their cider, pie, strudels, confections and sauce, all made of apples, of course.

Even though the apple pie was invented in England, the following prove that nothing could be truer than the expression “as American as apple pie:”

  • In El Dorado County, Apple Hill is so popular that a free shuttle bus system has been established to keep the roads in Camino from becoming gridlocked on autumn weekends;
  • Ten restaurants serve apple pie in Julian, a city of 1,500 (San Diego County) and
  • Twenty-four varieties of apples are grown and sold at Oak Glen (San Bernardino County).

That’s just the start of why autumn adventures in apple country has become such a tradition for Californians. Presently, fall color is Just Starting, though the apple harvest is happening, and Americans LOVE their apples.

San Bernardino County color spotter Alena Nicholas was there, today, and sent these images, but no apple pie. C’mon, Alena, share the love. 

  • Apple Hill, Camino (3,133′) – Just Starting (10-50%)
  • Oak Glen (4,734′) – Just Starting (10-50%)
  • Julian (4,226′) – Just Starting (10-50%)


Oak Glen (10/12/18) Alena Nicholas

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Sweet As Can Be

Sugar maple, Hideaway Rd., Greenville (10/12/18) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Sugar maple, Hideaway Rd., Greenville (10/12/18) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Sugar maples (Acer saccharum) are sweet to the eye. Perhaps that’s why so many were planted in Plumas County.

This particular specimen sugars the scenery along Hideaway Rd. in Greenville.

Leaves of the sugar maple can evolve in color through a full spectrum from dark green to lime, to yellow-green, to yellow, to yellow-orange, to orange, red and burgundy, during autumn.

Though numerous of the exotic trees have been planted in Quincy, Greenville and other Plumas County towns (Northern Sierra), none seem to have naturalized, leading a UC Davis botanist, with whom we consulted, to conclude that planting one is not likely to interfere with the growth of native trees. 

Sugar Maples, Plumas County (3,586′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! 

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Airbrushed with Crimson

Davis Knotweed, Lassen Volcanic National Park (10/4/18) Shanda Ochs

Davis Knotweed, Lassen Peak Trail (10/4/18) Shanda Ochs

It almost appears as if the trailhead to Lassen Peak was airbrushed with crimson in this photograph by Shanda Ochs, taken yesterday afternoon.

The color, in fact, comes from Davis Knotweed (Aconogonon davisiae). There are 27 varieties of knotweed native to California. Douglas knotweed grows in Lassen Volcanic National Park at this elevation.

Shanda said, “It was spectacular with the fog which made the color pop!” The dusting of frost on the volcano adds to the photo’s drama.

Notice the golden-orange ground cover near the base of the trailhead. The source of that color remains unidentified. Though, Fall Color creds go to the first person to comment and identify it. 

Lassen Peak Trail, Lassen Volcanic National Park (8,200′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Davis Knotweed

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California Wild Grape

California Wild Grape, Cameron Park (10/5/18) John Poimiroo

California Wild Grape, Cameron Park (10/5/18) John Poimiroo

Fremont Cottonwood and California Wild Grape, Cameron Park (10/5/18) John Poimiroo

California Wild Grape, Cameron Park (10/5/18) John Poimiroo

California Wild Grape (Vitis californica) is a treat for fall color foragers.

It’s known to climb as high as 50′ and one specimen I found in Cameron Park easily topped that height. It had overgrown a stand of  Frémont cottonwoods, with grapes hanging in bunches like Christmas ornaments all the way to the top of the trees.

This woody vine is found growing between sea level and 4,000′, often climbing into trees, Falcon Press’ Plants of Northern California reports.

In autumn, their large grape leaves turn a vibrant yellow or deep red at peak.

Only a few leaves had yet blushed, though I plan to  return to get more pictures and purloin a basket of grapes, which have a very pleasant, mild and sweet grape flavor. 


California Wild Grape (1,198′) – Patchy (10-50%)

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Seeing Red

Crimson Knotweed, Cliff Lake, Lassen Volcanic NP (9/12/15) Shanda Ochs

One of the earliest fall colors to enjoy in California’s mountains is red.

Though if you seek it, look downward. As, the red of which I write is crawling along the ground.

In the Shasta Cascade, it is the Crimson Knotweed that carpets volcanic slopes above 7,000′ in the Northern Sierra and Southern Cascade.

Dwarf Bilberry, Cascade Lake, Hoover Wilderness (9/5/18) David Senesac

In the Sierra Nevada, Dwarf Huckleberry or Sierra Bilberry (Vaccinium nivictum) grows in subalpine fir forests and alpine fell fields usually between 8,000 and 12,000′,  John Hunter Thomas and Dennis R. Parnell write in Native Shrubs of the Sierra Nevada.

Naturalist David Senesac hiked up into the 20 Lakes Basin of the Hoover Wilderness (Eastern Sierra) in early September to find ruby Dwarf Bilberry (Vaccinium caespitosum), “a turf height species of the blueberry family” blushing near timberline elevations in the weeks before autumn.

This plant is often red-purple in color, but ignites when backlit with light, adding vermillion vibrance and verve to its otherwise austere environs. 

Peak (75-100%) – Bilberry and Knotweed

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Identifying NorCal Plants

Plants of Northern California, Falcon Guides

With more than 7,000 species of native plants in California, it’s easy to misidentify one. As a journalist, not a scientist, I’ve made more than a few wrong identifications on this site. Hopefully, few misidentifications are still posted here, though – admittedly – I come across one, now and then. When I do, I correct it.

However, when you combine California’s native species to the thousands of non-native (exotic) plants in our gardens, parks and cities, it’s easy to imagine the difficulty involved in reporting accurately 100% of the time.

In order to identify obscure plants, I’ve sent photos of them to naturalists, botanists and foresters who’ve then identified them, but that takes time. So, increasingly, I refer to books and sites for answers. Recent additions to my library are field guides published by Falcon Guides.

In a previous post, I referenced Dr. Eva Begley’s Plants of Northern California. It illustrates, through color photography and text, native plants that grow west of the Sierra Nevada. This area includes the north San Francisco Bay, North Coast, Klamath and Cascade Ranges, and the Sacramento Valley.

Trees, Falcon Pocket Guide

Sierra Nevada Wildflowers, Falcon Guides

In the book, species are organized by color and family, and text describes their blooming period, elevation and habitat, plant characteristics, and other interesting facts. It is particularly useful in identifying flowering plants.

What has often bothered me about some field guides is that they’re written for scientists by scientists. So, common plants are often omitted, I suppose, because the author might think they’re so common that everyone must know what they are.

Dr. Begley did not make that mistake. Ordinary, as well as extraordinary plants are illustrated with sharp, colorful photographs and simple, direct and helpful text.

Falcon Guides even thought to print a ruler on the back cover, to help take the guesswork out of measuring blooms in the field and includes a glossary of terms (e.g., pinnate) that might otherwise be confusing to users.

Plants of Northern California has little within it to help in identifying deciduous trees or Sierra Nevada plants, though combine it with Falcon’s pocket guide Trees by Todd Telander and Sierra Nevada Wildflowers by Karen Wiese, and you have solid foundation of reference materials that will help you identify California plants when searching for California Fall Color. 


Bracken Ferns – A Carpet of Gold

Bracken Fern, Kyburz (9/9/18) Walt Gabler

Bracken Fern, Kyburz (9/9/18) Walt Gabler

Bracken ferns are carpeting the forest floor near Kyburz (4,058′) with golden yellow color.

The Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) flourishes in life zones from sea level to 10,000′ in elevation and is found in meadows, pastures, woodlands and forests (source: Plants of Northern California, by Eva Begley, A Falcon Guide).

North Coast color spotter Walt Gabler was returning from a Search and Rescue conference at South Lake Tahoe, when their bright yellow color attracted his eye during a rest stop in Kyburz, near U.S. 50. 

Near Peak (50-75%) – Bracken – These showy autumn ferns vary, presently, in fall color from Just Starting to Peak, depending on locale. They’re near peak in Kyburz, off US 50.


Fall Color Begins in Spring

Eastern redbud, El Dorado Hills (3/29/18) John Poimiroo

Many deciduous trees are budding out with blossoms and new foliage, providing for a fresh and colorful spring show.

This Eastern redbud tree (exotic) in our side yard is now flocked with magenta blooms, while Western redbud shrubs in Sierra foothill canyons are carrying rose  blossoms.

Although this website is  dedicated to fall color, what happens in autumn begins in spring.

So, if you see similarly bright spring foliage, email images to us and we’ll publish them here. editor@californiafallcolor.com


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LA County Owns December

Viburnum, LA County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens (11/28/17) Frank McDonough

Cotoneaster carry late autumn berries, LA County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens (11/28/17) Frank McDonough

The Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens in Arcadia owns December.

Over recent years, California Fall Color has consistently received reports and photographs of autumn foliage from this arboretum between mid November and mid December, but it is early December when fall color there is most beautiful.

That is largely consistent among coastal arboretums and botanic gardens, including the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley, Descanso Gardens, Huntington Botanical Gardens, San Francisco Botanical Garden, Balboa Park Botanical Garden and Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden. Though, not all feature as broad a range of varieties with fall color.

At the LA County Arboretum, Frank McDonough, its Botanical Information Specialist and one of our perennial color spotters, will be leading a Fall Foliage Walking Tour of the LA County Arboretum on Saturday, Dec. 2. He worries, however, that this year’s fall color is “way late.” Warm temperatures and dry skies have kept the color from developing, as seen in his photos of cotoneaster and crepe myrtle.

Crepe myrtle show patchy color, LA County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens (11/28/17) Frank McDonough

Frank, who has recorded the beauty of autumn there for years, will be speaking about what triggers the change among the broad mix of foliage to be enjoyed at the LA County Arboretum, including: gingko biloba, fishtail gingko, Eastern white oak, horse chestnut, Japanese maple, Japanese lacquer trees, Daimyo oak, crepe myrtle, sweet gum (liquidambar), sour gum, red maple, Eastern redbud, American elm, Chinese tallow, Chinese parasol trees, Chinese pistache, birch, pomegranate, cotoneaster, California fan palm, tulip trees, sticks on fire, pin oak, Chinaberry, Jerusalem thorn, blaze maple, horned maple, California wild grape, flame leaf sumac and California fan palms.

So, as December arrives, peak color does as well, though this autumn it is late in appearing at the LA County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens in Arcadia.

LA County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens, Arcadia – Patchy

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Pushups in the Woods

Amanita spp, Anderson (11/15/17) Gabriel Leete

Recent rains have caused mushrooms to push up out of the detritus, as Gabriele Leete found in Anderson.

Amanita, Anderson (11/15/17) Gabriel Leete

Split-gill mushroom, Schizophyllum commune, Anderson (11/15/17) Gabriel Leete

Among the mushrooms emerging are Amanita, among the most poisonous mushrooms on Earth, the most toxic of which cause liver failure and death.

There are 600 varieties of Amanita, including a few edible ones, though eating them is like playing Russian roulette with five bullets in a six-shooter.

Split-gill mushrooms, or Schizophyllum commune, are the only known type of mushroom to retract when touched. They are found on decaying trees during dry periods following a rainfall. Its beautiful gills or “gillies” resemble coral.

Honey fungus, Armillaria mellea, Anderson (11/15/17) Gabriel Leete

Honey fungus, Armillaria spp, Anderson (11/15/17) Gabriel Leete

Sticky when wet, the honey fungus, Armillaria mellea, grows around the base of trees it infects. The mushroom is a plant pathogen that causes root rot in many of the plants it infects, causing discolored foliage, dieback of branches and death, according to Wikipedia.

Psathyrella is a smaller version of Psathyra, Greek for “Friable.” However, do not mistake these for being “fryable,” as they are toxic.

Psathyrella are in a large genus of mushrooms, containing some 400 types, including CoprinellusCoprinopsisCoprinus and Panaeolus.

Psathyrella spp, Anderson (11/15/17) Gabriel Leete

OK, you get the idea, they’ve all been given Greek names. Aside from that, what also is common about Psathyrella is that they’re boring.

They are often “drab-colored, difficult to identify, and inedible,” Wikipedia reports, “So they are sometimes considered uninteresting,” perhaps that’s what makes them so fascinating to Gabriel and me.

No, we’re not Greeks, just geeks.

Mushrooms, Shasta Cascade – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!