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Early Dormancy

Blue Oak are peaking early in the Sierra Foothills (7/18/21) John Poimiroo

Blue oak (Quercus douglassii) are native to the hot, dry slopes of California’s interior valleys. They survive drought through a series of mechanisms, including the blue, waxy layer atop their leaves which helps reduce water loss in summer.

They need very little water. Blue oak will survive on 15 – 30″ of rain a year. Too much water is what kills them. Bartlett Tree Research Laboratories lists excessive watering as the leading killer of established Blue oak in the landscape.

In a normal year, Blue oak leaves turn golden yellow and pastel pink and orange during fall. However, in hot, dry years like this one, leaves achieve early dormancy, turn color suddenly and drop. That’s happening this week in the Sierra foothills where suddenly Blue oak are near peak.

  • Blue Oak, Sierra Foothills (Near Peak – 50-7%) GO NOW!
Early Dormancy, Blue Oak, El Dorado HIlls (7/18/21) John Poimiroo

Last Drips of Color

Wisteria, El Dorado Hills (12/14/20) John Poimiroo

Despite the occasional last drips of fall color, California is now largely past peak.

These images were taken on a foggy, wet morning, the kind that quickly transforms warm cotton blue jeans into sponges when bush whacking through foliage.

Most of the native color throughout the state has fallen, been blown away or is now rain-damaged by the storm that passed over the state this past weekend. Exotic, ornamental plants are providing the encore.

Wisteria are among the last climbing exotics to turn. They’ve dropped their seed pods which explode loudly upon hitting the ground, ejecting their seeds as much as 20 feet away upon impact.

Bright, red Hawthorne tree berries hang from bare branches in clusters of Christmas ornaments. The leaves long since fell and carpet the earth as they decay.

It’s now time for other ornaments to attract our attention, though Toyon and Pyracantha join Hawthorne in one last flush of seasonal color as winter approaches. There’s only a week to go until autumn is just a memory.

  • El Dorado Hills (768′) – Past Peak, You Missed It.
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Just Keeps Rollin’

American River, Rancho Cordova (12/5/20) Steve Arita

Fall color just keeps rollin’ along the American River.

Yesterday morning, Sacramento color spotter Steve Arita visited Hagan Community Park in Rancho Cordova expecting to find nothing along the American River. Instead, rich orange, gold and red lined its banks.

Peak color speckles the Sacramento area, though most urban forest color has now fallen.

  • American River, Sacramento (30′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.
  • Hagan Community Park, Rancho Cordova (72′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.

Empire Strikes Back

Maple Lane, Empire Mine SHP, Grass Valley (11/28/20) Steve Arita

As he vowed this week, color spotter Steve Arita returned to Empire Mine State Historic Park, to see if Maple Lane (his name for the path of maples leading to Empire Cottage) was finally at full peak.

For padawans who haven’t had the chance to visit this extra-beautiful terrestrial location, Steve wrote, “Maple Lane is still only half its length at peak, the other half is oddly still green to lime green.” State Park rangers told Steve that “this has been an odd year, usually all the colors go off at the same time,” sorta like a Death Star blowing up.

  • Empire Mine SHP, Grass Valley (2,411′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!


Seagulls Overhead, Look Up!

California gulls, valley oak, Nimbus Flat (11/28/20) John Poimiroo

It’s not usually a good idea to look up when seagulls are overhead, but I did that at Nimbus Flat (Folsom Lake SRA) and caught them swirling and singing above peak valley oak.

Several thousand seagulls have been spending late autumn on Lake Natomas (formed by Nimbus Dam on the American River in Folsom) on their way to the coast. California gulls breed during summer on isolated islands at inland lakes such as Mono Lake in the Eastern Sierra. They migrate to spend winter along the coast.

For the past few weeks, a mile-long colony of California gulls has been floating in the middle of Lake Natomas, occasionally lifting off in huge swirling cyclones of squawking seabirds.

  • American River (150′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Seeing is Believing

State capitol, Sacramento (11/27/20) Vishal Mishra

After reading reports of Sacramento’s lush color, Silicon Valley color spotters Vishal Mishra and Seema Baht drove up to the state capital to see for themselves. They’re now believers.

Sacramento truly is a City of Trees. Vishal was so inspired, he wrote, “It’s so gorgeous … so many trees everywhere. Every street feels like walking in a park.”

Vishal was impressed by the diversity of trees, including: black oak, autumn blaze maple, Chinese elm, hickory and plane trees.

The park directly behind the state capitol building is said to have growing in it every type of California native tree. There’s even a Capital Park Tree Guide that provides directions to them, including 14 of the largest trees of their type in California, including the state’s biggest Chinese pistache.

  • Sacramento (30′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Orange Friday

It’s Orange Friday, the day following Thanksgiving Day when California overcomes tryptophan-induced lethargy and goes outdoors to enjoy fall color before it’s gone.

On the San Francisco Peninsula, tall gingko biloba are littering city streets with gold.

Elsewhere in the Bay Area, American beautyberries (Callicarpa americana) provide holiday ornamentation at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden and fallen leaves are now strewn across Berkeley.

Down south, the place for peak color is the LA County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens in Arcadia. Orange-toned crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia) now dominate and more color is revealed each day to mid December.

Along the American River, cyclists, skaters and walkers on the 32-mile American River Parkway are enjoying one of the most colorful autumns in memory.

In the Gold Country, “Maple Lane,” a boulevard of maples leading to the Empire Cottage at Empire Mine SHP is at peak and will remain good through this weekend. So, spend your Orange Friday weekend being filled with the beauty of this lovely and historic place.

Maple Lane, Empire Mine SHP (11/25/20) Steve Arita

Or at old Monterey where gingko biloba, Asian maple and sycamore dress city streets with gold, yellow and chartreuse-colored leaves.

But, don’t plan to go swimming in Davis where backyard pools are covered with leaves.

Backyard pool, Davis (11/26/20) Philip Reedy

Unless you’re a duck. This pintail drake just enjoyed his morning bath at the Colusa NWR.

Morning bath, Pintail duck drake, Colusa NWR (11/25/20) Philip Reedy

Today is just another Orange Friday. It’s a day best spent outdoors enjoying fleeting moments of California Fall Color.


Finding Gold in Your Backyard

Southside Park, Sacramento (11/22/20) Steve Arita

In the previous post, Steve Arita traveled to Grass Valley to find gold at Empire Mine. Turns out, he didn’t need to go that far. It was near his Elk Grove home at Sacramento’s Southside Park.

Steve rightly bemoans that Sacramento has adopted the sobriquet as “America’s farm to fork capital,” when it traditionally described itself as “The city of trees.” He’s not alone. Numerous locals have complained about the identity change, from one that was focused on beauty to one that takes a bit of digesting.

  • Sacramento (30′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Finding Gold at Empire Mine

Bigleaf maple, California grape (11/22/20) Steve Arita

Steve Arita headed out in search of gold on Sunday and found it at Empire Mine State Historic Park in Grass Valley.

He reported, “fall colors are almost peak perfect. By Tuesday or Wednesday of this week, “Maple Lane”, which is an area of the park where a wide trail is lined with maples that runs almost the length of the park on the edge of the park, will be in full peak color.

He said “every year is different, but today I was able to catch it just right for most of the colors.”

California State Parks states, “Empire Mine State Historic Park is the site of one of the oldest, deepest, and richest gold mines in California. In operation for more than 100 years, the mine extracted 5.8 million ounces of gold (worth over $9.69 billion today) before it closed in 1956. The park contains many of the mine’s buildings, the owner’s home and restored gardens, as well as the entrance to 367 miles of abandoned and flooded mine shafts. The park encompasses 856 acres of forested backcountry and fourteen miles of trails – including easy hikes (for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding) – in the park.”

  • Empire Mine SHP (2,411′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!  

Before Wednesday

Zelkova elm, CSU Sacramento Arboretum (11/16/20) John Poimiroo

Sitting at my keyboard this morning, I mulled whether to go for a bike ride, work a bit inside or see what’s peaking nearby, when I remembered the weather forecast … an incoming front expected, staying through Wednesday.

Anticipating that peak color like that above might be gone in a day or two, I set out in search of local fall color, heading where it might most likely be found … to the west. I knew … I’d better get there before Wednesday.

The feral roosters of Fair Oaks enjoyed the sunny day while crowing, searching through the fallen leaves for bugs and seeds and accepting a handout of chicken feed from a considerate soul. They’ll be huddled under cover on Wednesday.

California black walnut, American River (11/16/20) John Poimiroo

A bounty of ripe California black walnuts hung from branches above the still waters of the American River, as squirrels scurried to get them … before Wednesday.

Piles of leaves sat beside curbs along Sacramento’s avenues waiting to be scooped up by city crews. They’d better hurry, as they’ll be mush on Wednesday.

Golfers putted, sun bathers chatted and moms and dads walked their kids near colorful trees at William Land Park in south Sacramento. Much of the color will be on the ground by Wednesday.

Sutter’s Fort, Sacramento (11/16/20) John Poimiroo

A redbud near Sutter’s Fort was carrying a patchy mix of red, yellow and green leaves, seemingly confused about whether it was yet time to peak. Such confusion will be gone after Wednesday.

  • Sacramento (30′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!