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Jerry Davis: Wisconsin is plenty colorful in autumn

September 25, 2018

Wisconsin’s fall Driftless area color display is not comparable to the Eastern United States or even northern Wisconsin.

There is just too much diversity in our forests, hillsides and lowlands. There are very few plant monocultures when we leave the farm fields.

We should not expect to find multiple square miles of predominantly sugar maples, quacking aspen or even one species of oak. Three or four oak species, several maples, two aspens, several elms, and two walnuts are the beginnings of some of these southern Wisconsin temperate deciduous forests.

Not all tree and shrub species begin autumn leaf transformations at the same time. When one begins, most others are full bore green.

Here’s an example. Black walnuts change color, most turning yellow even before the red woodbines decorate the forest. Yellow walnut leaflets and full leaves fall about the time the birches and aspens change. Now a portion of the forest is bare, another portion is coloring, and another is still green.

Individual trees within a species vary, too, and so do the soil conditions. Clearly every species is not on the same page. Clearly every tree is not the same species.

But that doesn’t mean Wisconsin’s fall colors, even in southern Wisconsin, aren’t something to write home about or send images via a cell phone. Instead, we just need to think smaller, look at a portion of a forest, a single tree, even a few branches or a handful of leaves.

There are few leaf displays more beautiful than a handful or sidewalk covered with golden, glistening ginkgo leaves.

These anticlimaxes need not be such, though, nor should camera images. Look smaller and photograph closer. Use the best light for viewing and photography.

Generally that is early morning or dusk light, but not always.

A cloudy day, with sun coming in and out of the clouds works, too. So do rainy days, or windy days that put leaves in the air as well as on the ground. There is no bad day for leaf peeking, just better days.

Cameras can never catch everything our eyes can.

If you want full-field color, gaze at a field of corn, soybeans, sunflowers or tobacco. There every plant is identical and is more likely to change color on schedule.

Train your eyes to concentrate on one color, too -- reds, yellows, purples, bronzes and block out the others momentarily.

Don’t expect perfection in the forest; you won’t be disappointed.

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