View October’s Rainbow

Autumn’s Visual Palette Spans the Color Spectrum

“As the nighttime temperatures begin to drop and the daytime becomes less humid, it is my favorite time to hike in the Chicopee Woods,” says Alison Thompson, Elachee Education Programs Manager. “The air feels crisp and smells fresh. There is a frenzy of activity from squirrels and birds. Most of the leaves retain their bright, dominant green, but if you take a closer look, there are pops of rainbow colors all around.” Alison’s challenge: when outdoors or on a hike in the next few weeks, see how many of the fall colors you can spot.

Red – Observe plants hosting colorful berries, ripe and ready for migrating birds and other animals to feast upon.  At this time of year, the bright red berries of the Strawberry Bush may catch your eye.  This shrub has pinkish-red, warty capsules that resemble strawberries. By October, the bright red berries burst out, giving the bush one of its popular names, Hearts A’busting.

Orange – Go outdoors after rainy weather for the chance to view a variety of mushrooms. Should you hike the Bridge Loop on the Chicopee Woods Hiking Trail system at Elachee, for example, you will likely encounter many species of orange mushrooms; varieties of shapes, sizes and shades, including mushrooms like chanterelles, turkey tail, amanita and many others.

Yellow – The Yellow Poplar is one of the first trees in the Piedmont to drop its leaves in fall. One of the eastern United States’ tallest trees, the Yellow Poplar often grows to over 120-feet tall.  When you see the yellow leaves on the trail, notice the unique shape comprised of four lobes, square and somewhat tulip-shaped, with a notch going inward at the top. Here’s a fun fact: you may need to look up very high to spot the leaves in the tree canopy, as this tree often does not have low branches along its trunk.

Green – When you think of an acorn, do you think automatically think brown? Ripe acorns are brown, but there are many bright green and yellow acorns falling from the many species of oak trees right now, particularly along the Elachee Creek hiking trail. Seeing this variety of acorn colors signals the oak trees dropping the seeds prematurely are under stress. This may be due to a very hot summer, heavy rains, poor pollination or disease. Recent and frequent heavy rains in this region could be the reason there are so many of these beautiful acorns on the ground.

Blue – “I was so excited when I spotted this Indigo Milk Cap on the Geiger Trail near the nature center,” shares Alison. Brilliant blue coloration fades to a still-stunning shade as it matures. This mushroom is in the genus Lactarius, which means it oozes a milky substance when the mushroom is cut or broken. This species oozes an indigo-colored milk!

Purple – Did someone spill their bag of grapes out on the trail? No, these grapes are Georgia’s native muscadines. The vines grow along the ground, as well as on trees and shrubs. The higher the vines reach, the more sunlight they get and the more fruit they produce. In October, muscadines are at the end of their growing season, so you may see some trampled on the trail like these.

Make time to hike in the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve find your own rainbow of colors, like the ones cited or others that catch your eye!