By Julianna Pax, Arboretum docent
The day started out a little blustery. but by 11 a.m. the sun came out and we had temps in the 50s. Our theme was the changing colors and nuts and berries in the woods. Mary Jo took one group on the Blockston Branch trail and I took a second group on a little longer trek (but still one hour) through the parking lot and out the Birch Allee trail. We admired the possumhaw viburnum’s blue berries and red leaves by the Visitor’s Center. The bridge gave us a chance to see the juniper berries and white cedar and swamp alder cones and the seed pods on the buttonbush.
Further on the trail, we passed a lovely red oak by the wetland, and in the parking lot there were four more colorful oaks – a white oak (our state tree and tree of the year at Adkins Arboretum for 2012), a pin oak, a willow oak, and a water oak. The red colors in some of the leaves appear in the fall due to the formation of scar tissue and the trapping of the sugar in the leaf, which then combines with a compound to form the red/purple anthocyanins. By the trail we next saw the deep purple leaves of the sweet gum with a nest just at our eye level. The nest was small and empty now and reminded us of the shelter and food that birds need.
Many dogwood trees still had their almost salmon-colored leaves this year. Where the sunlight passed through the canopy, it lit up the colors on the leaves. The red-colored anthocyanins in the leaves may act as a sunscreen for the delicate leaves. Tulip tree, paw paw, beech, and hickory leaves were sporting different shades of gold in the sunlight. We observed the fleeting green in the leaves near their center veins and were reminded that as the chlorophyll disappears, the yellow color that was there all the time is now visible. Both the green chlorophyll and the yellow/orange carotenes gather the sunlight and transform it into food for the plants and ultimately feed animals too. We passed the green cranefly orchid leaves with red underneath and went by some bright red leaves of low bush blueberries and saw red berries on some of the hearts a bursting. A few winged sumac still had red shiny leaves in the sunlight. Golden yellow leaves were everywhere we looked. Some leaves had already gone to the brown color of tannins, which is an end product of all this color and shows up in the coppery-colored water downstream.
Back at the Visitor’s Center, we joined the others for a colorfully decorated room with dogwood, beech, and holly leaves. Nuts and acorns were strewn on the table alongside, the printed recipes. We enjoyed our colorful foods, including sweet potatoes and carrots, in the soup and salad and fruit and nuts in the bread, salad, and dessert. Many told me that they were going to use the recipes at home and enjoyed the nutrition facts. There were 27 guests, and some were remembering that our next walk is in February, and wouldn’t it be nice if it snowed like it did a few years ago!
Many volunteers and staff make this a special event at Adkins, and I would like to thank all of you. Today we had Nancy B., Mickey B., Shirley B., Norma J. E., Mary J. K., Lynn L., Michele W., Zaida W., with Shelley at the desk. Lynn and Mary J. brought the desserts. Allison, Robyn, and Ginna did their part earlier, and to everyone else that I forgot, thanks.