Monkshood & Snakeroot for a Fall Finale

What a luscious October afternoon! I looked out my back window and was drawn, as I always am this time in autumn, to the furthest corner of the garden, where a little fall scene unfolds that I treasure more because it’s a secret. Want to see it?  Let’s take a little stroll past the messy pots on the deck with their various sedums and swishing sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) out into the garden past the table and chairs that haven’t been used since… when? August?

Janet Davis-garden-autumn

Keep going to where the lovely chartreuse Tiger Eyes sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’) is currently doing its Hollywood star thing in brilliant apricot…..

Tiger Eye Sumac-Rhus typhina 'Bailtiger'-fall color

But what’s this scene, just behind it?

Tiger Eye Sumac-snakeroot-monkshood-Janet Davis

Yes, two stalwarts of the autumn garden – and I mean autumn, fall, October!  Autumn monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’) and autumn snakeroot (Actaea simplex), aka fall bugbane. Each year, they flower at the same time, and enjoy identical conditions in my garden, i.e. the most moisture-retentive soil (lowest corner of the garden by a few inches), with reasonable midday sunshine but dappled shade a good portion of the day. The fragrance of the snakeroot is fabulous, something a little soft and incense-like, or reminiscent of talcum powder (in the nicest way).  Colour-wise, I love blue and white, from the earliest anemones-with-scilla in April to this shimmering, assertive finale.

Janet Davis-Actaea simplex & Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii'

And did I mention pollinators? As in bumble bees of different species, honey bees……

Pollinators-autumn garden-fall snakeroot & monkshood-

(WHO has the beehives near my house? I’d love to know)…..

Honey bees-Apis mellifera-Actaea simplex-fall snaekroot

……hover flies…..

Hover-fly on fall snakeroot-Actaea simplex

….and paper wasps, below, as well as ants and cucumber beetles.

Paper wasp on fall snakeroot-Actaea simplex

Monkshood is deadly poisonous, but its pollen seems to be an attraction for bumble bees and honey bees once the asters have finished up.

Bombus-Fall Monkshood-Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii'

Finally, do note that the snakeroot is not any of those fancy-schmancy dark-leaved cultivars like ‘Brunette’, but the straight species with plain-Jane-green-foliage,. And that it used to be called Cimicifuga, but the gene sequencers have now moved it into Actaea.  It is a lovely plant and should be used much, much more.

Fall Foliage: Yellows & Golds

This is a fact: red & orange fall colours would not be nearly so thrilling without the beautiful contrast of neighbouring yellows and golds.

Yellow and red autumn leaf canopy

If you’ve followed along as I offered up some lovely trees, shrubs and perennials whose leaves turn red in autumn, and a second group whose foliage turns glorious shades of orange, apricot and bronze, I’m sure you’re waiting with bated breath for the final installment. No? Well, anyway,  those would be the many species that turn yellow and gold.  As we know, autumn colours result from the breakdown of chlorophyll (the ‘green’ pigment) as temperatures cool and days shorten in late summer and early fall. Yellow leaves owe their brilliance to the presence of a group of orange-yellow pigments called the carotenoids, and within that group, the yellow xanthophylls (the other group being the orange carotenes on display in my last post). Not only are xanthophylls found underlying the chlorophyll in leaves, where they absorb sunlight in a specific spectral range, they are also responsible for the petal colour of yellow flowers – all those “damned yellow composites” (DYCs), i.e. daisies like coreopis, heliopsis and silphium, among hundreds of others. Even the yellow in egg yolks comes from a xanthophyll called lutein in the hen’s diet. And, of course, xanthophylls give us the brilliant autumn yellow of trees like our beloved North American paper birch (Betula papyrifera), its pure-white bark and golden leaves resplendent against a bright-blue October sky.

Betula papyrifera-Paper birch

Other birches turn yellow in autumn, too. Here’s the delightful cherry or birch (Betula lenta) in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto. One of its alternative names, spice birch, recalls its historic use in the extraction of wintergreen oil from the roots. It is a native tree that should be grown much more.

Betula lenta-Cherry birch

Hornbeams are also members of the birch or Betulaceae family, so it’s not surprising that European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) should turn a lovely yellow-gold in fall in the right conditions. This is ‘Fastigiata’, the pyramidal form.

Carpinus betulus 'Fastigiata'-Pyramidal European hornbeam

What about maples? Well, perhaps the most ubiquitous yellow in our urban woodlands in eastern North America is the very one we wish had never been introduced, so invasive is it and so successful at elbowing out native trees. But there is no question that the Norway maple (Acer platanoides) does have beautiful yellow fall colour.

Acer platanoides-Norway maple

Sugar maples (Acer saccharum), of course, can be a mix of yellow and orange and even pure yellow like the one below, given the right chemistry.

Acer saccharum-Sugar maple

The same can be said for many red maples (Acer rubrum), like the one below growing in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.  (On a personal note, I was very disappointed to find a red maple I’d ordered as a city boulevard tree in front of my house – having been led to understand that it would be a blazing-scarlet fall companion to a ginkgo further down the boulevard – has fall leaves that turn dishwater yellow.)

Acer rubrum-Red maple

Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) has fall foliage of a lovely soft-yellow in most autumns, occasionally becoming a richer gold.

Acer saccharinum-Silver maple

So it’s no surprise that the pigments it adds to Acer x freemanii, the hybrid Freeman maple (Acer saccharinum x Acer rubrum), can often result in a tree with red-splotched yellow leaves, as below, rather than the rich-red Freeman maple I included in my blog on red fall colour.

Acer x freemanii-Freeman maple

The sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus), below, often turns yellow in autumn, but cannot be depended upon to do so consistently.

Acer pseudoplatanus-Sycamore maple

In Toronto, where I live, the small Tatarian maple (Acer tataricum) turns a light yellow in fall. (Note that this is not the related Amur maple, Acer ginnala, which generally turns reddish tones.)

Acer tataricum-Tatarian maple

The majestic native hickories turn yellow in fall. The golden canopy of the shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) is a stunning crown to its handsome, peeling bark.

Carya ovata-Shagbark hickory

And the bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis), below, another underused native tree, also turns brilliant yellow in autumn.

Carya cordiformis-Bitternut hickory

I live under a 70-foot black walnut tree (Juglans nigra) whose large green fruit rain down on my roof and skylight like billiard balls in autumn, so I may not be fully appreciative of its generally good yellow fall colour, seen here at Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

Juglans nigra-Black walnut

The pinnate leaves of thornless honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis) take on yellow autumn color. Doesn’t this one (likely the cultivar ‘Shademaster’) look gorgeous against the blue brick wall?

Gleditsia triacanthos-Honey locust

Speaking of pinnate leaves, is there any foliage more beautiful than that of the Kentucky coffee tree (Gymnocladus dioicus)? And it does this in fall!

Gymnocladus dioicus-Kentucky coffeetree

The native pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) bears interesting maroon flowers in spring, edible fruit in late summer (provided a male tree is planted near female trees in order to fertilize the flowers), and has beautiful yellow fall foliage.

Asimina triloba-Pawpaw tree

Though under a half-century of siege from Dutch elm disease, our surviving American elms (Ulmus americana) put on a gorgeous autumn show, the leaves turning bright yellow to gold.

Ulmus americana-American elm2

Sadly, the specimen in these two photos, photographed at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, had to be removed.

Ulmus americana-American elm

With its heart-shaped yellow fall leaves, the eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is almost as lovely in autumn as it is in May, when its leafless branches are lined with magenta-pink pea flowers. This one is at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Cercis canadensis-Redbud

Have you ever seen a yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea) in flower in spring? It is a thing of transcendent beauty. This is my favourite specimen, at Mount Pleasant Cemetery. (Alas, this kind of show is not usually an annual thing, but happens every three years or so.)

Cladrastis kentukea-Yellowwood flowers

But every autumn, the yellowwood’s leaves can be counted on for a good yellow show.

Cladrastis kentukea-Yellowwood

Similarly, our North American fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) dangles its lovely white ribbons in spring, then turns yellow in October.

Chionanthus virginicus-Fringe tree

In late October in Toronto, our eastern witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) conjures up the year’s latest flowers, little yellow ribbons that often emerge as a double-bill with the shrub’s beautiful yellow fall leaves.

Hamamelis virginiana-Eastern witch hazel1

There are several witch hazels in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, and I love standing under them and looking through the rich golden canopy.

Hamamelis virginiana-Eastern witch hazel2

Speaking of golden canopies, you would be hard-pressed to find a more shimmering one than a forest of trembling aspens (Populus tremuloides) in autumn, something that tree-lovers in many parts of North America see as a spectacular geometry of white bark and yellow crowns. But I love the way their slim trunks create those graceful vertical lines in a forest of maples, and I especially love the fluttering sound of the leaves as they “tremble” in the wind.

Populus tremuloides-Trembling aspen

There’s also a native conifer that turns yellow in autumn before losing its yellow needles. That would be our lovely, moisture-loving Eastern larch or tamarack (Larix laricina), shown here in the bog at Ontario’s Torrance Barrens, a 4700-acre dark sky preserve near my cottage on Lake Muskoka.

Larix laricina-Tamarack

The lindens (Tilia sp.) turn yellow in autumn. This is littleleaf linden (Tilia cordata) just beginning its colour change.

Tilia cordata-Littleleaf linden

Most tree-lovers would likely agree that the most spectacular yellow fall colour in a large tree comes from the ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba). Given that the tree is dioecious and the female produces smelly fruit, most nurseries sell only male forms. To see a tall, old ginkgo in full autumn regalia is simply breathtaking….

Ginkgo biloba-Ginkgo tree

….and the contrast of those fan-shaped, yellow leaves with the dark spurs from which next year’s growth will emerge is quite transfixing.

Ginkgo biloba-spurs

Another Asian beauty for autumn brilliance is the Japanese katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum). A fine tree for a garden where it has room to reach its ultimate height of 60 feet (20 m), like this one at the Lake Joseph Golf Club near Port Carling, Ontario….

Cercidiphyllum japonicum & Actaea simplex 'Brunette'

its heart-shaped leaves first turn yellow…..

Cercidiphyllum japonicum-Katsura tree leaves

….then darken to gold…..

Cercidiphyllum japonicum-Katsura tree

…before falling to the ground in a brown carpet.  During that period of senescence (the dying of the leaves), those who walk nearby or under its boughs will often (but not always*) notice a unique and quite strong fragrance that reminds them of burnt sugar or candy floss or caramel. This isn’t surprising, since the leaves contain the carbohydrate maltose – or malt sugar – and its concentration increases as the leaves turn color, when the scent is often released as an aromatic.  The fragrance is ephemeral and transient, and *many people have never had the experience of inhaling it,  but those who do don’t easily forget it.

Cercidiphyllum japonicum fallen leaves-maltose

Less well-known than the katsura is the Amur cork tree (Phellodendron amurense), a good, hardy tree for a small garden and lovely in autumn, when the yellow leaves frame the lustrous blue fruit.

Phellodendron amurense-Amur cork tree

As mentioned in my blog on orange fall colour, some of the Japanese cherries turn beautiful colours in autumn. The weeping Higan cherry (Prunus x subhirtella ‘Pendula’) is one that takes on a delicious yellow gold.

Prunus x subhirtella 'Pendula'-Weeping Japanese cherry

How about a few vines that turn yellow in autumn?  One that many gardeners love for its lacy, white flower clusters in summer is climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris). This specimen is at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Hydrangea anomala ssp.petiolaris-Climbing hydrangea

Bittersweet (Celastrus sp.) turns a luminous gold in fall as the fruit capsules are opening to reveal the orange berries. I wish I could say this is the native North American vine (C. scandens), but sadly I learned many years after buying and planting it that I (like a lot of fleeced customers) had bought the invasive Asian lookalike (C. orbiculatus). Fortunately, it does not seem to have spread in my garden or in the neighbourhood, even though the cardinals adore the fruit.

Celastrus-Bittersweet

There are a few good perennials that take on yellow hues in fall. The most spectacular belong to the genus Amsonia,  whose icy-blue late spring flowers are indeed lovely, but its renown has come from the spectacular colour change in fall (when grown in full sunshine and moist soil). This is Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii).

Amsonia hubrichtii-Arkansas blue star

And this is eastern bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana), in the company of a fall-blooming New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae cv) in the Piet Oudolf-designed entry border at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Amsonia tabernaemontana-Eastern blue star

Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) is a favourite native perennial of mine, and very happy in my partly-shaded border. From late October into November, its gracefully arching leaves turn a beautiful, pale yellow.

Polygonatum biflorum-Solomon's seal

For all their ubiquity as foliage accents in our gardens, hostas aren’t always appreciated for their lush, gold decaying leaves in autumn.  This magical transformation tends to happen more with the thick leaves of the blue hostas, or those that have similar substance. Below is ‘Frances Williams’ in late October, jauntily sporting a Washington thorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum) leaf as a hat.

Hosta 'Frances Williams'-fall color

Some ornamental grasses will turn yellow in fall, and none is better than our native switch grass (Panicum virgatum). What a lovely addition this grass is to a naturalistic garden.

Panicum virgatum-Switch grass

Finally, from my own front meadow, come the succulent leaves of sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (Hylotelephium telephium ‘Herbstfreude’). Long after the bees have disappeared and the spent flowerheads have turned a rich burgundy, there is this brief yellow farewell to summer.

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'-Hylotelephium 'Herbstfreude'

Like all the trees and shrubs above whose green leaves have worked hard for months to manufacture the sugars that feed the plants, it is now time for that mellow yellow goodbye. Let the snows come.

Fall Foliage: Orange, Apricot & Bronze

What would autumn be in the northeast, without the blaze of sugar maples in our forests and gardens?

Acer saccharum-Sugar maple

In Ontario such a thought is inconceivable, but they’re just one species of many whose foliage turns salmon, orange, apricot, peach or bronze, once chlorophyll disappears in autumn and exposes the secondary pigments, whose role it is to harvest sunlight to feed the plant. Now that I’ve escorted you through the red part of the hardy autumn trees & shrubs in my last blog, let’s have a look at some species that turn those spectacular orange shades.  Sugar maples (Acer saccharum), of course, are so predominant in northeast North America, they seem like the iconic poster child for colour change. Rarely, however, do they turn a solid orange like the tree below…..

Acer saccharum-sugar maple2

Instead, their leaves transform to yellow, orange and scarlet according to conditions of sun and shade, and also according to how much sugar has been metabolized to bring on the synthesis of anthocyanins seen in the colour change of many red maples (Acer rubrum).

Acer saccharum leaves-Sugar maple

A few of the Asian maples take on orange hues as well. Just outside my own Toronto living room window is my nearest and dearest connection with orange autumn foliage – a common Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) that has now been with me long enough for its branches to caress the 2nd floor guest room windows (much to my window-washer’s dismay), and to offer, absolutely free, the most beautiful fall colour show each October or early November.  This lovely tree has been growing against my old house’s front wall for more than 25 years, and is protected from fierce north winds while enjoying the warmth of the sun from the south.  That’s not to say it’s entirely happy; it always loses a few young boughs in an unusually cold winter, and freezing rain after a heavy snow has sheared off a big limb. But it’s this autumn transformation that makes it such a treat, with colours ranging from deep scarlet to the softest apricot.

Acer palmatum-Japanese maple

From inside the living room, it’s like looking through a tracery of amber lace, which is why I’ve never wanted drapery or blinds on my windows and instead decided on a fringe of blown-glass witches’ balls to catch and refract the sunlight.

Acer palmatum-Witches' Balls

There is nothing more beautiful than those delicate leaves – the subject of so many fine Japanese woodblock prints over the centuries.

Acer palmatum-Japanese maple leaves

Another beauty from Asia – this time from central China – is the elegant paperbark maple (Acer griseum) with its glossy, peeling, copper-toned bark, and its wonderful deep orange-scarlet autumn colour. I grow this species in my own garden, but this beautiful specimen is in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery. It is simply one of the best trees for a small garden and, if possible, should be placed where its lovely bark can be seen in winter.

Acer griseum-Paperbark maple

There’s another little Asian maple that is rather rare in gardens in North America, but seems perfectly hardy and should be used more: ivy-leaved maple or vine-leafed maple (Acer cissifolium). Multi-stemmed and used as a small tree or large shrub, it’s especially beautiful in October when its foliage turns a gold-suffused-apricot.

Acer cissifolium-Ivyleaf maple

Then there is Manchurian maple (Acer mandshuricum), yet another small, fine Asian maple that takes on soft orange-yellow tones in fall.  I am so fortunate to have these rarer maples in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

Acer mandshuricum-Manchurian maple

From Korea comes a lovely shrub with waxy, fragrant, white spring flowers called Korean abelia (Abelia mosanensis). In autumn, the foliage turns a rich salmon-orange.

Abelia mosanensis-fall

Many Japanese cherries turn colour in autumn.  Sargent’s cherry (Prunus sargentii) often turns a spectacular mix of deep salmon and dusky rose-pink….

Prunus sargentii-Sargent's cherry

…while the hardy Japanese cherry hybrid ‘Accolade’, below (one of whose parents is Prunus sargentii), usually develops a good peachy-orange colour.

Prunus 'Accolade'-Japanese cherry

Even the hardiest and most common of the Japanese cherries, Prunus serrulata ‘Kanzan’ – shown here in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery – puts on a pretty, soft-apricot show each autumn.

Prunus serrulata 'Kanzan'-Japanese cherry

What else comes from Asia and turns orange in fall? Korean mountain ash (Sorbus alnifolia), also called the alder-leafed whitebeam, is a small, hardy, underused tree with small red fruit and apricot-orange leaves.

Sorbus alnifolia-Korean mountain ash

European mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia) also puts on a good orange show in fall, both the leaves and the fruit clusters (until the birds finish with them).

Sorbus aucuparia-Mountain ash

What about oaks? Though there is great variability in the colour of senescing fall leaves, a number of hardy oaks pass through spectacular shades of orange and copper. Perhaps the most dependable is pin oak (Quercus palustris), with its finely-cut, narrow leaves. To see this tree on a sunny October day is to celebrate the joys of autumn. Coupled with that, pin oak is fast-growing, easy to cultivate and pollution-tolerant.

Quercus palustris-Pin oak

Red oak (Quercus rubra) is a majestic tree that will infuse the forest canopy with honey-gold and russet-orange, sometimes with wine-red highlights. Indeed, all these colours can sometimes be found on a single red oak bough in autumn.

Quercus rubra-red oak

We scarcely need to look outside our native flora for oaks to use in our gardens, but there’s one half-native-half-exotic hybrid pyramidal oak that’s perfectly suited for very small gardens, given its narrow, columnar bearing.  It’s the Crimson Spire™ oak, (Quercus x bimundorum), a hybrid of English oak and white oak, which gives beautiful russet-orange autumn colour.

Quercus robu -'Fastigiata'-columnar English oak

Besides oaks, beeches are the quintessential stately autumn tree for bronze-gold-orange fall colour. That holds true for our native American beech (Fagus grandifolia), below, alas currently experiencing the deadly ravages of beech bark disease in my area…

Fagus grandifolia-American beech

…. or the European beech (Fagus sylvatica) and its various cultivars and forms, including copper beech.  I particularly love the fernleaf beech (F. sylvatica ‘Asplenifolia’), below, one of the most graceful of trees, with soft apricot fall color;

Fagus sylvatica 'Asplenifolia'-Fernleaf beech

And there are a few rare Asian beeches, like Fagus orientalis,below, with its rich fall colour.

Fagus orientalis-Oriental beech

Another beautiful, large tree is the Japanese zelkova (Zelkova serrata), which always turns colour in autumn, though it can be red, soft orange, as below, or yellow, depending on the tree and the exposure.

Zelkova serrata

Not all ash trees exhibit colour change in fall, but white ash (Fraxinus americana), below, can often be counted on to make a beautiful show.  (Sadly, the emerald ash borer is wreaking devastation on this genus in my part of North America and no one will be planting ashes for a long time.)

Fraxinus americana-White ash

What about a conifer that turns orange in autumn before shedding its needles? There are two, actually, but since bald cypress isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, let’s give a cheer for the lovely dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides).

Metasequoia glyptostroboides-Dawn redwood

A small and rather rare tree that often inspires a curious double-take in autumn is the pillar crabapple or Chonosuki crabapple (Malus tschonoskii). Its fall hues are much more vibrant than most crabapples, a gorgeous mix of gold, apricot and salmon, on a tidy tree that should be grown much more often.

Malus tschonoskii-Pillar apple

From the forests of eastern North America come two smallish trees that turn apricot-gold in October. Both are members of the large birch (Betulaceae) family and much-loved for their hard wood – a  trait commemorated in their respective, and confusingly similar, common names.  Let’s start with American hophornbeam or ironwood (Ostrya virginiana). an understory component of forests from Nova Scotia to Texas. That genus name comes from the Greek word ostrua for “bone-like”, which gives a clue as to its hardness; traditional uses have included tool handles and fence posts.

Ostrya virginiana-Ironwood

The second small North American native is Carpinus caroliniana, also known by the similar common names of American hornbeam, ironwood, musclewood and blue-beech. I really love this tree, and if I were starting my garden from scratch, I’d make sure it included one. Look at the beautiful honeyed-apricot fall colour below….

Carpinus caroliniana-American hornbeam

I cannot talk about orange fall colour without mentioning smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria).  Some autumns, the leaves of this large, multi-stemmed shrub are almost a neon orange and are especially thrilling when backlit by the sun.  This is the wine-leafed cultivar ‘Purpureus’ – note the little wisp of left-over “smoke”.

Cotinus coggygria 'Royal-Purple'-Smoke bush

I mentioned fothergillas in my blog on red fall colour, but in fact they can also be among the best orange-leafed shrubs in autumn; it just depends on the season. And often, all colors are present in the shrub. In fact, I can promise you that if you plant one, you will be delighted with its foliage change in fall. Here is Fothergilla gardenii at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Fothergilla-gardenii-(1)

Taking a page from its red-hued cousin, the burning bush, the common European spindle-tree (Euonymus europaeus) has excellent salmon-coral fall colour when grown in sufficient sun. The one below has decided to re-flower in autumn (something that happens in many plant families, given a long summer and enough time for a few of the current year’s growing buds to mature within a single season, rather than waiting for the following spring).

Euonymus europaeus-Spindle tree

And though I’ve mentioned the ‘Rosy Glow’ Japanese barberry in my discussion of red fall colour, common barberry (Berberis vulgaris) – despite its bad reputation for invasiveness and alternate-hosting of disease – is no slouch in the autumn fireworks department.

Berberis vulgaris-Common barberry

When I was designing gardens in the 1990s, I would often include Peking cotoneaster (C. acutifolius), a serviceable shrub for hedging or screening that was off the radar of most gardeners, but one I appreciated for its ease of cultivation in any soil and its beautiful mottled autumn leaf colour.

Cotoneaster acutifolius-Peking cotoneaster

Many spireas take on soft peach-apricot-gold tones in fall. Given their ubiquity –especially Van Houtte spirea (Spiraea x vanhouttei) hedges, below — it’s a good thing that they have something to offer long after their spring flowers fade.

Spiraea x vanhouttei

I have a soft spot for my final shrub, given that it grows in my back garden and its fall colour change is part of a dramatic duet with a stunning neighbouring perennial – a “twofer” (well threefer, if you count the white fall snakeroot, Actaea simplex) that extends the season well into November.

Rhus-typina-'Bailtiger'-Tiger Eyes sumac-my garden

Not that Tiger Eyes™ sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’) doesn’t hold its own through spring and summer: no, those ferny, chartreuse leaves add a luminous pool of light to a shady corner in my garden for months on end. But in October, when the autumn monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’) finally opens those cobalt-blue flowers atop tall, thick stems just in time for the sumac to transform itself into a lacy, apricot confection, it is simply my favourite moment in the garden.

Rhus-typina-'Bailtiger'2-Ti

My final plant for orange fall colour is a perennial grass, little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), below.  In October, this wonderful, warm-season grass takes on soft-orange hues that speak of autumn on the prairie. And like all fall colour change, it signals a stirring last hurrah in the growing season, a time for cheering before the frosts of November subdue the garden palette and the snows of December finally subsume it. Until next year.

Schizachyrium scoparium-Little bluestem