Leaving and Leafing

Poison ivy ~ Toxicodendron radicans

Falling leaves, colorful leaves, leaves to rake and burn: all signal summer’s leave-taking. Here on the Texas coast, much of our seasonal color is produced not by vibrant and dramatic hardwoods, but by vines twining through the landscape.  Virginia creeper, dewberry, and poison ivy add a touch of color to the autumn palette.

On the other hand, autumn also is a time for trimming and clearing. With seasonal rains and warm temperatures often lingering into November, new growth is everywhere. Some appears green, like the leaves of this poison ivy vine growing up the trunk of a hackberry tree.

Other new growth is more colorful. Trimmed-back peppervine (Ampelopsis arborea) often fills ditches and woodland edges with its own version of autumn red.

In the midst of a local woods, this young willow oak leaf (Quercus phellos) also provides a bit of autumn color. Its elegant, starry shape would make it a perfect ornament for any Christmas tree, as well as a lovely addition to our celebration of autumn.


Comments always are welcome.

57 thoughts on “Leaving and Leafing

    1. Plenty of Texans speak of a ‘second spring.’ After the heat of summer, we not only have plants that bloom or rebloom in the fall, conditions often allow for this kind of new growth. It’s quite a mixture; the grasses add to it, with their beautiful reddish and rust colors.

    1. It took years for me to stop moaning about the absence here of the autumn color I’d grown up with. Now, I take my color where I find it, and there’s more than I ever imagined.

    1. Peppervine berries are colorful, too. They begin pink, darken to a kind of red and then turn black. I’ve been looking for a cluster with the multi-colored berries, but haven’t found one yet — thanks partly to the birds. Poison ivy can turn orange or red here, too, but I suspect the color depends on how quickly and steeply the temperature drops — or other environmental factors.

      1. The muliticolored berry that catches my eye in fall is porcelain berry (Ampelopsis glandulosa), which is classified as invasive in Massachusetts. Pretty, but it tends to take over. The berries are showy shades of blue and purple.

  1. The red of your peppervine contrasts nicely with the sky blue behind it. Peppervine deserves more appreciation than it gets. As for poison ivy, it’s among the most protean of plants, growing as a vine or a forb or a shrub or a stalk. We normally think of red on oak leaves that are about to fall; like you, I’ve also noticed the red on the emerging oak leaves in some of our native species.

    1. Peppervine has so much going for it. Even when green the leaves are attractive: lacy and airy. Oddly, I don’t remember ever seeing the flowers. I suppose I don’t pay attention until the berries start to form.

      I’ve seen reddish new growth with dewberry and mustang grape, too. It would be interesting to track several vines next spring and see if they all have hints (or more) of red.

      Speaking of poison ivy, I learned something in the course of reading about the plant for my last post. It turns out that mangos also have urushiol in their skin and in the fruit underlying the skin. After so many years of not being able to eat mangos because of terribly itchy lips and tongue, it seems I finally have solved the mystery of my reaction to the fruit..

  2. I’m not familiar with the willow oak, but the leaves do form a perfect pentagonal star. Interesting that the underlying red colors are showing even on the new leaves.

    1. I wasn’t aware of willow oak until I found these leaves and began looking for the mature trees. They’re quite attractive, although the star shape of the leaves isn’t as obvious in older trees.

      The red in the peppervine — and red maples, and such — is due to the presence of pigments called anthocyanins. In many plants’ young leaves, the redness disappears as the leaves mature and develop chlorophyll. When the growing season is over and chlorophyll begins to disappear, anthocyanin turns some leaves red while carotene turns other leaves yellow. Whether the red in the willow oak leaf was coming or going, I can’t say, though I’d bet it was a young leaf in the process of losing its red coloration.

  3. You scare me when you mention burning leaves and if they are poison ivy, the smoke is very toxic. I know of someone who was hospitalized from breathing the smoke, so I rarely burn anything other than the asparagus patch. I give PI a wide berth at all times!
    I love the willow oak leaf – truly a garden star.

    1. Of course, when I was luxuriating in burning leaves, I was living in Iowa, and those huge piles all were maple, elm, willow, and such. I can’t remember ever hearing of anyone encountering poison ivy until I got to Texas. Probably, people who lived in the country were more aware of it. I know one of the first hill country lessons I learned was “don’t burn poison ivy.” That came right after, “Don’t park a hot car in the midst of dry grasses.”

      The willow oak is my new favorite tree. Those leaves are gorgeous. When they develop, they tend to hang and cluster — they’re not quite so perky — but they’re still beautiful.

  4. Such beautiful photos. The reverse is happening here in Australia but unusually cold. 12C , snow on the mountains and it is almost summer.
    I am trying to grow the Virginia creeper. It likes water.

    1. Now I’m laughing — imagining a soccer team called the Virginia Creepers. I’ll bet they’d be allowed to wear trousers, and I’ll bet they’d surprise everyone with their skill.

      Virginia creeper is a beautiful plant. I hope you can get it to thrive. We have just about the same temperatures now, although we’re a touch warmer. This is a ‘roller coaster’ season for us. We warm nicely, and then another cool/cold front comes through, and we do it again. So far, there haven’t been any temperature extremes, which is making for a nice fall. I’d be willing to accept a sharp cold front, though; it would bring more color.

    1. You’re right about the need to get with that yard work. You know how it goes. We get lulled into thinking this lovely November weather is going to linger forever and then: wham! It’s below freezing and everyone’s asking, “How long until spring?”

      I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. The willow oak was new to me; the peppervine’s a favorite. As for the poison ivy — at least I could recognize it at last!

  5. The willow oak leaf looks like something man made. It is simply beautiful. Now I am wishing that I had planted one in my yard years ago. I wonder if it could be preserved in silica gel or pressed between sheets of paper. It really is a beauty.

    1. I’m sure it would press nicely, although I’ve never done much of that myself. I don’t think even the best pressing can keep that vibrant color; I’ll enjoy the memory through my photo. On the other hand, wouldn’t a replica done in glass look wonderful? What a sun-catcher or decoration that could be.

  6. That willow oak is wonderful. I can just imagine a tree loaded with them. A leaf definitely worthy of book pressing. It doesn’t appear to do well here and is only found in a small part of Ct. I wonder if it would be worth trying as I am hoping to add a few oak trees to our small woods.

    It’s taken a while but I am slowly getting Mary Beth to accept the value of leaves lying on the ground. She still is raking them off the lawn but instead of dumping them in the woods they are being spread on gardens as a combination mulch, winter blanket to aid in both soil health and cover for insects that like our yard and need somewhere for winter shelter. Of course they do have value in the woods as well.

    1. Here’s a page that nicely sums up its great advantages for wildlife. Unfortunately, it is a southern/southeastern tree. It has gorgeous autumn color, so I’m going to keep an eye out for it in east Texas this fall.

      Leaves do work great as mulch, but I’ve heard that shredding them before mulching is important, since a too-thick layer of whole leaves can cause problems with moisture retention and such. Since I don’t garden, I’m fairly ignorant in that area, but I do have a couple of friends who use their mowers to shred leave for that purpose.

      1. I am sure there must be science behind the theory about the entire leaf. But I am as skeptical of that as I am of the advice to not water your garden at night. I’ve yet to hear of gardens suffering from an evening rainfall and many woodland plants do just fine under the year’s collection of fallen leaves. About the only place I’d think it might be a problem is a large pile left sitting on grass. But in my case anything that creates less mowable grass is my friend.

        As far as oaks go, I’ve been reading this book about them, “The Nature of Oaks” and pretty much all of them are the number one tree to offer food and shelter for insects and many birds. I want to add a few to our little woods and so far have transplanted just a couple that were growing in the yard in not so advantageous places.

        Chances are I probably will not live to see their acorns. I’ve seen this little bit of advice from a few sources attributed to a few authors. ““The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”” I am not sure I thoroughly understand the meaning of life but a little snippet or two is satisfactory enough.

        1. Don’t forget: the audience for any article makes a difference. There are plenty of people who think that if a little is good, a lot is better. For example, I can drive a mile or two in any direction and see landscape trees whose owners have mounded dirt and mulch around their trunks to a height of two feet. It drives the arborists crazy, but what ya gonna do? Nature will drop whole leaves in the forest, but only a human homeowner can be tempted to create a three-foot tall layer.

          1. While walking Bentley today I noticed a yard where they had done just that. I guess it’s easier than hauling them away but not healthy for the trees. Even worse, I’ve seen where people build stone or brick walls, about 18″ high around a tree and filled it with dirt. One mustn’t fool with Mother Nature.

  7. So many of the things you share here are things we don’t see here in the north (or maybe I don’t look hard enough!) Ah, yes, the clean-up. Never fun. We still have a lot of green and more yellow than we should at this time. Makes me wonder what’s happening in the world!

    1. Ah, yes. What a difference 1,300 miles can make! And don’t forget that Texas has twelve eco-regions. Even traveling across the 800+ miles across my state can reveal huge differences. The differences among the east Texas woods, the coastal plain, and the deserts and mountains of west Texas are more than striking.

      So many conditions affect color change in fall, it’s hard to pin changes in what we expect on any one factor. Sometimes, a dry, warm year means our leaves just turn brown and fall. An especially wet year keeps things green for a good while, but if we get a fast, deep cold front that lingers, those leaves will turn the scarlet, yellow, and orange that everyone hopes for. I’ve laughed at our cypress trees this year. They began to turn the beautiful rust that typifies them in fall, and then the process stopped. It may have been the long period of rain, but they’re all standing around, green as can be, at this point. Eventually we’ll get another front, and their leaves will turn russet and drop.

      Can you tell I’m fascinated by the process?

    1. I noticed that the willow oak tends to turn a glorious red-orange in fall. I’m going to start taking a closer look at any tree that’s so vibrant. I might have been assuming those trees were non-native; they might not be. The willow oak is native in Chambers, Montgomery, and Liberty counties, as well as a little farther north and east, so you might be able to find one.

  8. I’ve never seen the peppervine or willow oak before – they’re really beautiful. (I’m happy that I’ve never seen poison ivy either, LOL!)

    1. An absence of poison ivy always is to be celebrated!

      I searched the RHS site for Ampelopsis, and found the ‘porcelainberry’ a couple of readers in our northeast mentioned. It’s a nasty invasive here, but it is listed only as ‘non-native’ on the RHS page. I’d never put it in a garden, that’s for sure. It’s a more-than-enthusiastic grower, and spreads like crazy. Your pretties never would have a chance! I think peppervine is a little easier to control, but not much.

  9. I looked it up too and I can see that many would be tempted by the lovely berries. But not me! I have already got lots of thugs in the garden that are trying to take over. And some of them would just be described as ‘vigorous’, which really doesn’t convey how rampant they can be, argh!

    1. Isn’t it a beauty? Clusters of them aren’t so dramatic; they turn a nice, solid green and pretty much look like leaves. But in the fall, it seems that they turn a gorgeous rusty red. At least, they can if conditions are right. They’re probably all around you, since N and S Carolina are home to them.

  10. Fall colours, in whatever guise they choose, are welcome to me, especially fallen leaves with a wind swirling among them.

    1. Your comment reminds me that color isn’t the only thing I miss about autumn leaves from more northern areas. The sounds and smells are just as appealing; even rain-soaked leaves have an unforgettable fragrance.

  11. Linda, I trust you stayed FAR away from the poison ivy! That stuff is deceptive, isn’t it? It almost looks like something you’d pick to put in a display vase, ha! The peppervine is very festive though.

    1. I’m just proud of myself for being able to identify it — at last. I’m sure I’ll have another experience or two with it, just because I get so involved looking at things around me I stop scanning the landscape for what I affectionately call the Demon Weed. It is pretty when it begins to turn, and I’ve seen some photos of it that make it look almost like Virginia creeper. The peppervine does supply a nice red, though; I agree with you that it has a festive look.

    1. I’ve noticed those tallows beginning to take on color, and some of it is quite vibrant. If I find a particularly pretty one, I may go ahead and post it, just as a way of pointing out (again!) that “this is pretty, but invasive — don’t plant it!”

  12. Autumn is a beautiful time, and I love how differently it showcases itself in each region. Thanks for sharing a bit of what you see over there.

    1. I do love autumn. Some years our color is extraordinary, especially if we have good rains and sudden, sharp cold. But every year has something to offer, and if nature sometimes is more subtle than we humans prefer? That’s just a challenge to us to become more attuned to her ways.

  13. YIKES! I stop by for a leisurely stroll through your post, only to run right into my nemesis: poison ivy! LOL

    It may provide some lovely autumn color but I try not to get close enough to admire it.

    1. At least now I can identify the Demon Vine — at least, occasionally. Of course, I can recognize calorie-laden foods, too, but that doesn’t mean I’m always able or willing to avoid them. Knowledge and will: the conflict of the ages!

      I hope your foray into the wilds of retail-land don’t leave you itching for the old days any more than we already do!

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