The Adirondacks are home to a vast number of deciduous tree species – the kind that change colors in fall and shed their leaves in winter. We've compiled a list of five of our favorites to keep an eye out for during fall leaf peeping.
Large, leafy and decidedly deciduous, American Beech is chummy with Sugar Maples, and both maple tree species and beech can be found in well-drained forest areas such as the Paul Smith's College Visitor Interpretive Center in Paul Smiths. The leaves of American Beech turn yellow to reddish brown in autumn. By winter, the foliage will fade to a lovely pale brown and a few daring leaves will remain on the tree through the next spring.
Fun fact: American Beech, aka the North American Beech, is the only native tree species of beech that grows in North America.
Broad and classically formed, Sugar Maple leaves can be seen everywhere from the Canadian flag to maple syrup labels. Ubiquitous throughout the Adirondacks, the Sugar Maple flourishes in the well-drained soil of the northern hemisphere. A grove of Sugar Maples is oft called a "sugar bush," and one such glorious grove can be found at the Uihlein Field Station in Lake Placid on Bear Cub Lane. The foliage turns red, yellow and orange in fall, and the foliage is often so vibrant, a sugar maple tree will look like it's glowing in autumn.
Fun fact: Sugar Maples are tapped in late winter and early spring for sap, which is collected, boiled and poured over short stacks at breakfast tables across the world. Also, the seeds are on a coolness par with Oak's acorns, as they "helicopter" to the ground at the end of the season. Sugar Maple is also the state tree of New York, and the national tree of Canada. Each tree has a lifespan of 200-300 years.
This medium-to-large deciduous tree does well in marsh and wetland habitats, producing brilliant red foliage in the fall. Red Maples are popular nesting trees for a variety of birds, including the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Wood Thrush and the Eastern Wood-Pewee, as well as woodpeckers. So, if you see a Black-backed or Downy Woodpecker settling in over some take-out in a tree, chances are it's a Red Maple. Check out the Bloomingdale Bog on Bigelow Road, or the Silver Lake Wilderness area on West River Road in Saranac Lake for both trees and woodpecker varieties.
Fun fact: Red Maples are usually the first trees to change their colors in fall, heralding the approach of autumn well before other deciduous trees in the Northeast. Those red leaves you start to see toward the end of August in the Adirondacks? They're likely Red Maple.
The Quaking Aspen is everywhere; literally, it has one of the widest growth ranges of any tree in North America. It flourishes along 47 degrees of latitude and more than 100 degrees of longitude, or nine time zones. It can grow at sea level all the way to the timberline of the highest peaks. It's also very lovely in autumn, and is one of the last trees to change colors. The dry leaves, when disturbed by the wind, create a gentle rustling sound that, for many, heralds the beginning of winter. Just about any forested area in the Adirondacks will house a few aspen clones.
Fun Fact: Quaking Aspen is one of the largest living organisms on earth, sprouting clones from its roots. One clone in Minnesota is said to be 8,000 years old.
One of the loveliest trees in the fall, Yellow Birch is tall, with shiny yellowish-bronze or silver bark and golden foliage. These trees do well in moist, well-drained, soils and they love sun and partial shade. Yellow Birch are tall trees, and it's not unheard of for them to be 100 feet tall. Though a common tree for lumber, the trees also produce a sweet sap similar to Sugar Maples that can be used to make syrup and candies.
Check out Goodnow Mountain or around the Adirondack Interpretive Center in Newcomb to find Yellow Birch this fall.
Fun fact: Broken twigs from Yellow Birch smell like wintergreen, and, though we've never tried it, we've heard that the tender twigs can be used to make a tasty tea.