Fall: First Colors Pop



The first colors of fall are among the very best.

The deep colors of sumac, black gum and Virginia creeper. The bright color of poison ivy – yep, poison ivy, check it out. They’re all making their appearance right now.

But the star of the early show is sassafras.

It would be a surprise if you’ve never noticed it. If you think you haven’t just think about that stretch of trees along the west side of I-475 between Dorr Street and Airport Highway. For a week or so during most Septembers there’s a stretch of medium-sized trees glowing spectacularly in oranges, reds and yellows.

That’s sassafras.

That’s the same sassafras that puts the root in root beer. It also puts the file’ in gumbo – that mandatory seasoning used to flavor and thicken gumbo is really a fine powder of finely ground sassafras leaves.

There’s more.

Kids (and most adults) love to discover that every sassafras tree has leaves with three distinctively different leaves. The simplest form is oval-shaped like a spoon. Another has a second lobe that makes the leaf appear like a mitten. The third is a real crowd pleaser, especially as Halloween approaches. It has three lobes and looks like a ghost. 

Everything is cool about this tree. The tree trucks are gnarled with deeply furrowed bark that shows a deep red where broken. Pick a leaf and scrap the stem, you’ll easily detect a lemony smell. If you use the wood for firewood, the exposed wood will be a deep reddish brown.

It’s a common tree seldom more than 50 feet tall, often seen in your Metroparks of the Oak Openings. It’s most often seen along woodland edges.

You can’t miss it.


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