The Turning of the Leaves

Story and photo by Gabrielle L. Wheeler

The countryside is ablaze with hues of red, yellow, and orange, as we pass through the peak of the season of the turning of the leaves. It’s a wonderful time for activities like taking a ride on the motorcycle, going for an autumn hike, or getting out with the bow and arrow. While you are out, take the time to check out the trees close up. Observing their color changes in the fall is yet another way to identify our woody neighbors and can be fun to do just for the sake of knowing what’s around.


  1. Maples: There are six native maple tree species found across New York, with some, such as the sugar maple, being more common than others. Sugar maples produce the brilliant autumn colors we love, with a single tree able to display hues of red, yellow, and orange at once. Black maples, which closely resemble sugar maples, display bright yellow. Red maples give us “brilliant scarlet, orange-red, [and] yellow,” as described in the National Wildlife Federation’s Field Guide to Trees of North America. A favorite of cities, the silver maple displays as pale yellow, while the understory-loving striped maple turns a “vivid yellow.” Lastly, North America’s smallest maple, the mountain maple, enchants us with yellows, reds, and oranges as well.


  1. American Beech: American beech trees are common on my property and I enjoy them for their smooth, gray bark. In the autumn their leaves turn a golden-yellow then brown. Interestingly, some of the leaves of beech trees do not all fall off, with many clinging to the branches until leaf-out in the spring.


  1. Oaks: A common species across the New York tier, the leaves of the Northern red oak have pointed lobes on the leaves and display as deep red, orange and brown in the autumn. White oak has deeply divided leaves, meaning its lobes seem to almost cut in to the vein. These leaves turn a light pink, deep red, or violet-purple, according to the guide. Swamp white oak is common across the northern part of the tier along Lake Ontario, displaying a dull yellow-bronze. Also common where swamp white oak occurs, the burr oak has a narrow “waist” and turns yellow to brown in the autumn. Many oak species also hold onto their dried leaves after winter’s onset and drop them in the spring when new leaves burst forth.


This is definitely not a comprehensive guide to tree species in the region and I would encourage anyone to grab a field guide and get out to enjoy the scenery close up.

Gabrielle Wheeler is a freelance writer from the heart of the Finger Lakes Region. On her parenting blog,, she writes about tending to the whole child and parent. She also works in a local health center as an interpreter/patient navigator.

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