September 18, 2017

The soft hues of fall (maple leaf viburnum and hobble bush)

By Eric D'Aleo, Naturalist

Walk through any forest in the northeast in the fall and you are sure to be struck by the brilliance of the colors of the foliage. Many visitors to New Hampshire look forward to mountain ranges robed in various shades of bright colors or search for scarlet-leafed maples along the back roads of small towns. When people walk the trails throughout the state their gaze is often pulled skyward to look at the gold of the aspens and birches, the orange of the oaks, and the red of the maples. However, do not forget to search beneath the brilliant colored canopy for the softer and more subtle hues of the season.

The maple leafed viburnum is a shrub often mistaken for a young red maple tree because its leaves have a similar appearance. A mature plant may reach a height of three to six feet and is often found in the shade of upland forests consisting mainly of beech and maple. In the fall this shrub’s foliage comes in various pastel shades of pale yellow, light pink or a deeper rose color. Often these colors are on several leaves of the same plant or all on the same leaf. The fruit turns a dark blue and is eaten by turkeys, robins, cedar waxwings, flickers, bluebirds, cardinals, flycatchers, thrashers, thrushes, and woodpeckers. In the spring and summer the leaves are a larval food source for the spring azure butterfly and the flowers are a nectar source for the golden-banded skipper.
Maple leaf viburnum
flickr/Katja Shultz
Another understory shrub often overlooked until it “trips” you is hobble bush. Also known as witches hobble the plant is found in rich, moist, wooded areas. The shrub can grow to a height of six to twelve feet and has the ability to root when a branch bends down and touches the ground. This creates dense thickets of plants that make traveling through them difficult. Tripping hazard aside, the shrub’s leaves turn a burgundy to dark plum color in the fall. If the central portion of the leaf still remains green it reminds me of a sliced kiwi whose colors are reversed. The berries also ripen in the fall, changing color from red to dark blue and may be eaten by ruffed grouse, cedar waxwings, brown thrashers, squirrels, and chipmunks. So don’t overlook these lesser known fall color artists, look for their softer hues hidden in the forest and you will be rewarded.
Hobble bush
flickr/US Fish & Wildlife Service

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