Northland Nature: In the fall foliage race, hawthorns lead the wayAnyone traveling in the Northland at this time will find it hard to not notice the tree leaf color.
Anyone traveling in the Northland at this time will find it hard to not notice the tree leaf color.
Along with the migration and apple ripening, this changing arboreal attire is a product of the shorter and cooler days.
Maples have joined the scarlet glow started by sumac, dogwoods and cherries. As we proceed through the rest of the month, the show broadens and yellow-gold will help to light up the scene.
Indeed, this fall foliage is one of nature’s happenings that we enjoy seeing each year; often we will seek out the wonderful woods on a clear autumn day.
These late-September times are full of other awesome autumn news as well.
The bird migration, most notable with raptors at Hawk Ridge but extending right into our yards, is a regular occurrence now. Geese, blue jays and white-throated sparrows come by daily. A few species of fall butterflies add a fluttering bit of color and we watch the activities of squirrels and chipmunks as they prepare for the coming cold in their own ways.
Among the flowers, goldenrods, asters and sunflowers that have brightened the roadsides for weeks are now fading and forming seeds.
Acorns, hazel nuts and cones of pines and spruces are reaching maturity now, as are the fruits of many other trees.
Red seems to be the color of choice; as I wander along the woods’ edge now, I see ripe berries and fruits of sumac, highbush cranberry, crab apple and mountain-ash. All hold brightly colored fruits as a way of getting the attention of passing animals.
Red stands out now in these trees and, by being noticed, it is more likely that the fruits picked and consumed will spread the seeds — a form of animal dispersal. Birds, squirrels, raccoons, bears and deer all do their part to move the ripened seeds.
Red among the green leaves is easy to see, but I find the hawthorns (pictured) often carry this a step further.
These small trees produce little apple-like fruits (some people call them “hawthorn haw apples”) on branches that also hold long sharp thorns — hence the name. But hawthorns advertise their product more than other trees.
Not only are these small “apples” bright red, the trees also shed their leaves very early. On a tree bare of leaves, the diminutive reds are quite easy to find.
Though nearly all the deciduous trees drop leaves as we get to mid-October, the hawthorns lead the way with a foliage fall already in early September. (The hawthorn group is wide and diverse; not all kinds have such a quick defoliation.)
Back in late May, the hawthorns helped to color the roadsides and forest margins with clusters of white flowers on the thorny stems. Along with wild plum, cherries, juneberry and elderberry, they show just how common such small trees are in the region. Plants are in the rose-apple family, and the white blossoms provide a fragrance that brings in a plethora of pollinators. Through the summer the fruits are formed.
Now trees are loaded with these half-inch products. Beneath the red skin, each holds large seeds.
The colorful attention-getting scene works well and I find hawthorn trees that are so full of fruits in September are virtually devoid of them in a couple of months.
Few human eat these “haw apples” and, for us, they just add more color to the trees of late September.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books that are available now: “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Fascinating Fungi of the North Woods.” Contact him c/o email@example.com.