A Kaleidoscope of Color

A Kaleidoscope of Color

 In autumn, most leaves turn to an all over solid color such as cranberry, scarlet, or gold.  But a few turn slowly, with different pigments showing up at different times, thereby creating  multi-colored leaves.  Here are my two favorites, both of which I have planted in my savanna garden on the other side of the garage:

The first is American Hazelnut (Corylus americana). 

In late September, the leaves first turn to vermillion, apricot, and topaz that mix in with chartreuse and jade, while pendulous catkins form along the gray branches.

An upright, multi-stemmed shrub with a rounded top, it grows 8-10‘ tall. forming colonies by means of root sprouts.  Before European settlement it was the most prominent shrub in the Chicago region.  But the suppression of fire and the overgrowth of exotic honeysuckle and buckthorn has altered the composition of open savannas to the extent that Hazelnut is rarely found in the wild any more.  I’ve searched in vain in the Forest Preserves of northern Kane County where I live to see it in its native habitat. (I once found a Hazelnut growing in the midst of a tangle of Buckthorn in the backyard of a client, much to my delight.

Fortunately, Hazelnut is readily available from nurseries and it makes a splendid shrub for home grounds.  Group it in partial to full sun in a shrubbery border or plant it on the east or west corners of a house.  Or grow it in a naturalized situation within an oak savanna, or along a woodland edge or a fence line.  It produces downy clusters of edible nuts in September and October, similar, or some say superior, to the commercial variety.  They are extremely attractive to birds and other wildlife; it’s difficult to harvest them before the critters do.  Hazelnut can withstand fire, regenerating after the top has burned to the ground.  It was a favorite of Jens Jensen— he frequently planted it in colonies within a shrubbery border along property edges.

I have three of the shrubs along my back lot line, all planted the same year, but there is variation among the three.  The one in the corner of the lot is easily twice the size as the other two–it does receive more sun than the other two, which may account for the difference.  The leaves of the large corner shrub and the one next to it eventually become scarlet, while the third one becomes gold.

They prosper in dry woodlands, fencerows, trailsides, and woodland edges.    But I have never seen one that hasn’t been planted–or perhaps, I just haven’t noticed.  Have any of you seen Hazelnut in the wild?  Please let me know.

Shingle Oak

The second plant I want to bring to your attention is Shingle Oak (Quercus  imbricaria).  I ordered a Scarlet Oak from a nursery, and received instead a mis-labeled Shingle Oak, also a member of the Red Oak family.  I decided not to exchange it, because I was curious to see what a Shingle Oak looked like–I had never seen one..  So far, I’m enthralled.

When young, it has a pyramidal shape that becomes more spreading with age (don’t we all?).   It will grow 40 to 60’ tall and wide.  The leaves are unlobed, lance-shaped, and glossy dark green that turn to purple, scarlet, and topaz in fall.  They then  become a leathery russet-brown and  persist through most of the winter, which makes it a good privacy screen.

Shingle Oak is primarily an oak of the Midwest.  it is a denizen of dry woodlands, often found with White Oak, Black Oak, Blue Beech (another favorite of mine), and American Hazelnut, mentioned above.  Adaptable, it  also grows on prairie margins or adjacent to eroded farm land and tolerates sand, gravel, or clay.  It transplants easier than most oaks and makes a superb street tree.

Because the wood of this tree can be easily split into thin sheets, the early settlers of the Midwest used it to make wooden shingles, hence the common name.   The specific epithet comes from Latin and means to place in an overlapping order, as with tile or shingles, says the Missouri Department of Education.

Full disclosure:  Not only do I not have a photo of a a full grown Shingle Oak, I have never seen one, only pictures on the internet.  Please let me know if you have seen one, and, if so, where?

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