8 Trees that Flaunt Brilliant Fall Color

Landscape Design Tree Planting

8 Trees that Flaunt Brilliant Fall Color

By Arbor Day Foundation | September 24, 2018

Autumn is “leaf season,” nature’s annual color festival. Environmental factors and the genetic makeup of the trees determine the intensity and times of peak color, with factors varying from tree to tree and region to region.

Here are 8 of our favorite trees for fall color. These trees will also provide spring color, shade, privacy, and wildlife habitat.

  1. Black Tupelo

Nyssa sylvatica

Called “one of the best and most consistent native trees for fall color” by tree expert Michael Dirr, the black tupelo is a terrific landscaping choice. Displaying various hues of yellow, orange, bright red and purple—often on the same branch—its foliage is a stand-out of the autumn season. Even the distinctive bark, which resembles alligator hide, adds visual and textural interest.

And while its blooms may not seem noteworthy, bees will be very appreciative of the presence of this tree, as it serves as an important late-spring food source.

Hardiness zones 4-9.

  1. Ginkgo

Ginkgo biloba

Hailed as “undoubtedly one of the most distinct and beautiful of all deciduous trees,” the ginkgo certainly stands out. Unique, fan-shaped leaves turn a stunning yellow color in the fall. It can tolerate many urban conditions including heat, air pollution, salt and confined spaces. And it establishes easily.

This tree also comes with a bit of history. It is a living fossil, with the earliest leaf fossils dating from 270 million years ago.

Hardiness zones 3-8.

  1. Shumard Oak

Quercus shumardii

A stately, strong and long-lived tree with beautiful fall color, the Shumard oak is a great selection for yards. This adaptable species has been successfully grown in urban areas where air pollution, poor drainage, compacted soil, and/or drought are common, making it a fine choice for street trees as well.

While this tree is favored by homeowners, deer and squirrels also love its small acorns.

Hardiness zones 5-9.

Read: Tree Care Tips for Fall Planting

  1. Red Rocket crapemyrtle

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Whit IV’

This stunning shrub is renowned for its showy flowers, beautiful bark, fast growth and tolerance of soil conditions. The petals are wrinkled like crepe paper, adding to its appeal. The red rocket crapemyrtle also adds ornamental value to landscaping in all seasons, and it is considered one of the fastest growing crapemyrtles—shooting up as much as 5′ per year.

Whether you’re looking for a standalone plant or something to incorporate as part of a mixed border, the red rocket crapemyrtle could be the answer.

Hardiness zones 7-9.

  1. Kentucky coffeetree

Gymnocladus dioicus

Drought-resistant. Tolerant of pollution. Adaptable to a variety of soils. With its reputation as a tough species, the Kentucky coffeetree is an excellent choice for parks, golf courses and other large areas. It is also widely used as an ornamental or street tree.

The tree’s picturesque profile stands out in all seasons and can be attributed to a unique growth habit of coarse, ascending branches that often form a narrow crown. Tree expert Michael Dirr pointed out that there are “certainly no two exactly alike.”

Hardiness zones 3-8.

  1. Sugar maple

Acer saccharum

The sugar maple is one of America’s best-loved trees. In fact, more states have claimed it as their state tree than any other single species—for New York, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Vermont, the Maple Tree stands alone.

While commercially planted for its delicious syrup and value as lumber, this maple tree makes a great addition to any yard or park. And one of its most prominent features is amazing fall color. As the seasons change, the leaves turn vibrant shades of yellow, burnt orange and red.

Hardiness zones 3-8.

Read: Designing a Landscape with Trees

  1. Red Maple

Acer rubrum

Red maple is one of the best named of all trees, featuring something red in each of the seasons—buds in winter, flowers in spring, leafstalks in summer, and brilliant foliage in autumn. This pageant of color, along with the red maple’s relatively fast growth and tolerance to a wide range of soils, makes it a widely planted favorite.

The natural range of red maple begins roughly at the eastern edge of the Great Plains north to Lake Superior, extending eastward to the Atlantic. But homeowners and urban foresters are growing this tree across the United States.

Hardiness zones 3-9.

  1. Sourwood

Oxydendrum arboretum

John Ruter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

A medium-sized tree, the sourwood shines in the summer and fall. Its midsummer flowers appear like lilies-of-the-valley, are highly fragrant and contrast nicely against the green foliage. Then in the fall, leaves turn intensely beautiful shades of brilliant crimson, purplish-red and sometimes yellow. This tree shines in landscaping as a specimen in a lawn, a garden feature, an ornamental addition to larger trees or a clump in a large, open space.

And for honey lovers, the sourwood offers an additional bonus. Honey produced from the flowers of this tree is considered by many to be unmatched by clover, orange blossom, fireweed or any other honey.

Hardiness zones 5-9.

Fall ColorFall Foliage

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