Fall Color; East vs West

I’ve been eager for a double-dose of fall this season. It’s probably because I feel like I’ve missed out somewhat by traveling to the southern hemisphere during October or November in recent years.   I’m not complaining, but it has made me extra appreciative of changing leaves and seasonal hues as the days get shorter.


Blue ridge pass road view

Passing through the Blue Ridge Mountains


This year, in addition to soaking up the glowing golds of a Pacific coast autumn, I jumped at the chance to make a trip to the other coast, where they really know how to do fall color properly.


Western Blue Ridge and Shenandoah

Miles of fall foliage overlooking the Shenandoah Valley.


My husband and I just returned from a lovely time in the Mid-Atlantic, especially a road trip through the Virginia countryside. We felt really lucky to catch the colors, especially in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley, as different species changed their tones, in the beautiful Indian summer.


fall lake Virginia

Late afternoon at Sherando Lake, Virginia.


To those of us that live in the West, there’s nothing like whole hillsides blazing, in the good way, with the fiery colors of fall.   It was spectacular to take in views, to the east and the west, from the Blue Ridge Parkway, as well as amazing aerial vistas from a hot air balloon, as a special treat.


Charlottesville fall reflection

Morning light at Chris Greene Lake, Albemarle County Virginia


The autumn colors, in combination with the heavy dose of history in every little town,  is classic Americana, in a way that we just don’t have in the West.


cemetary Mt Jackson

Churchyard in Mt. Jackson, Virginia


Even though California isn’t as famous for fall color, as other parts of the US, we do have plenty of it if you know where to look or what to plant. A handful of landscaping trees and shrubs can produce reliable color even in our mild winters.


Glory Vine in Fall

Vitis coignetiae in fall color, Scotts Valley California


Of course there are the beautiful hues of our grapes and vineyards as well as good color in the fruit trees of commercial orchards and home gardens alike.


Glory Vine window

Monterey Pear tree, putting on a show, on the Pacific Coast


Not only do we get autumn hues from purposely planted species, but we do have a number of native plants that provide fall color as well. Big Leaf Maples and some of the deciduous Oaks, that grow at our higher elevations, produce reliable color. We  have a native Cornus and the Pacific Vine Maple (Acer circinatum), that can occur in generous groves in the wild, in the places where it is happiest.


California Vine Maples

Grove of native Acer circinatum near Redding, California


Often overlooked for its beautiful range of fall colors is the western native Poison Oak. It is under appreciated of course, due to its unpopular irritating properties. But it is an important species for wild life and can rival the beauty of East Coast climbers, when a large plant races high into the trees for a seasonal blast of color. The plant makes a last hurrah, before the leaves fall off and makes every naked trail-side stick a potential hazard for winter hikers.


poison oak in fall

California native Toxidendron diversilobum. Beautiful but irritating.


The generally milder winters of most of California makes for a large range of perennial plants that can gain extra notice, at this time of year, when varieties with warm-hued foliage deepen their colors as the temperature drops or as their leaves are set aglow with the lower autumn light.


phormium back light

Perennial Phormiums lit with the low autumn sun


On the Pacific coast we will usually have something in color even into the midst of winter.  But at last I’m feeling a nice sense of equilibrium, now that I’ve gobbled up some extra helpings of natures’ reds and golds.


Big Leaf Maple Yosemite

California native Acer macrophylum aka Big Leaf Maple


A few places to visit for fall color in California;

Native plants; Burney Falls, Yosemite Valley, Big Basin State Park

Vines and orchards; Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Eastern San Joaquin Valley

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Categories: Places to See


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