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Each fall, a glorious spectrum of colors blankets the

hardwood forests in many areas of the United States.

I grew up on a family farm located in South Central

Virginia and I looked forward to the fall season every

year. Each fall, the area would be covered in a quilt

of colors so vibrant that even a teenager would likely

take notice.

In Colorado, it’s the gold of aspen trees that catches

the eye. In New England, it’s the brilliant oranges and

yellows of the sugar maples. And in the South, it’s the

deep scarlet of the red oaks, the reddish-orange of

sumac and the multicolors of sweet gum.

Despite appearances, Mother Nature doesn’t paint

with broad brush strokes. Paint-by-numbers would

be a better analogy because each tree has its own

fall color bound up in the chemical composition of the

sap, which provides the “instructions” on what color

to turn.

Tree leaves change colors according to complex

chemical formulas. Depending on how much iron,

magnesium, phosphorus or sodium is present in

leaves and the acidity of tree sap, leaves might turn

amber, gold, red, orange or just fade from green to

brown. Scarlet oaks, red maples and sumacs, for

instance, have a slightly acidic sap that causes the

leaves to turn bright red.

The leaves of ash trees growing in areas where

limestone is present will turn a regal purplish-blue.

What prompts the change? Although many people

believe that a mischievous Jack Frost is responsible

for the color change, weather conditions are just one

factor at play. As the days grow shorter and the nights

longer, a chemical clock inside the trees starts up,

releasing a hormone which restricts the flow of sap

to each leaf.

As the autumn season progresses, the sap flows

more slowly and chlorophyll, which gives most leaves

their basic green color over the spring and summer

seasons, starts to disappear. The residual sap becomes

more concentrated as it dries, creating the

colors of fall.

In other words, the colors are always there, but as

the predominant hues of green fades, other colors

become enhanced and begin to show through. Sunlight,

nutrients and moisture level factor into the process

and cool weather seems to slow things down to

bring out the full effect.

Obviously, this area is not a hot spot for fall color

along the roadways as we don’t have the aspens

of Colorado nor the sugar maples of New England.

Along the highways in Galveston County — well, it’s

basically the orange, yellow and red hues of the maligned

Chinese tallow and a few other trees.

I was pleasantly surprised to see one tree species

providing an unexpected burst of fall color. Last week

while walking back to my office from the Discovery

Garden in Carbide Park in La Marque, I noticed a

colorful layer of fallen leaves below the canopy of a

Texas ash (Fraxinus texensis). The leaves from this

tree were a striking yellow-gold in color but leaf colors

in the fall also range from gold, orange and purple depending

on local conditions. The crape myrtle in my

backyard produced a maze of yellow, red and copper

colored leaves that provided a glimpse of fall color. A

few blocks from my home is a neighbor’s mature and

very tall bald cypress. I have witnessed the tree’s foli age

turn from a soft green to a striking bronze color

over the pass weeks as I drive to work.

Yes, fall colors in our urban forests along the Texas

Gulf Coast do not hold a candle to those in many

other areas of the nation. However, it seems that life

is often about trade-offs — in this case, I find ample

solace and much happiness in living in an area with

very mild and pleasant winters.

Seminar on The Jewels in the Garden . . . Hummingbirds

Galveston County Master Gardener Deborah Repasz’s

presentation will include the fight and flight

for survival of hummingbirds in Galveston County.

Repasz will highlight ways to increase hummingbird

sightings in your yard by creating an inviting habitat

using shelter, food, and water. Plants, including Texas

natives, and other resources that attract hummingbirds

will be presented, as will the impact of pesticides

on hummingbirds.

The seminar will be conducted on Saturday, December

8, from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. at the Galveston

County AgriLife Extension Office located in Carbide

Park (4102-B Main St. in La Marque). Pre-registration

is required (phone 281-309-5065 or e-mail galvcountymgs@ to ensure the availability of handouts.

Master Gardener Class Applications

Applications for the 2019 Master Gardener class

are due on Thursday, December 6. Applications can

be picked up at the Galveston County AgriLife Extension

Office located in Carbide Park (4102-B Main St.

in La Marque) or downloaded online (https://aggiehorticulture. Classes will be

held from Tuesday, February 5, and on each Tuesday

and Thursday thereafter through April 11.

Trees and other plants along highways and home

landscapes have provided a respectable display of fall

color over the past weeks. Although Chinese tallows are

considered an invasive tree species, they have provided

eye-catching displays of fall color.

PHOTO CREDIT: William M. Johnson

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