We enjoyed the spectacular fall colors in Wisconsin during late September and October. It was a great year for fall hikes in the woods. I had a good time grouse hunting in northern Wisconsin on multi-colored carpets of leaves. Maples and aspens in the Chequamegon Forest were bright. Late-season trout fishing along the Rush and Trimbelle Rivers was beautiful.
The 8 inches of snow that fell in mid-October was a bit of a bummer because I really like fall when I can hike and do work in the woods on frozen ground without snow. A cold spell with strong winds blew down leaves and by November the trees were mostly bare.
We left home in Wisconsin in mid-November and got to see some good fall colors in the forests of central Missouri where we visited friends on our way south. When we arrived at our winter home in Cedar Key, Florida, it was 80 degrees Fahrenheit and green was the dominant color in the woods.
We took our boat out for some inshore fishing around the islands and along the coast. The black and red mangroves stay dark green all year. Saltmarsh grasses along the estuaries are mostly brown now. The needle rush is still dark green. The cabbage palms and red cedars are fairly salt-tolerant and grow on slightly higher ground. They are green year-round. The red cedars are bearing loads of purple berries. Myrtle warblers, house finches and robins are feasting on the cedar berries.
Now that fall has arrived in Florida near the end of December, there’s quite a bit of color in the woods. There are many species of trees on the mainland near Cedar Key. We take long hikes in the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge where old logging roads provide a network of trails. The slash, sand, longleaf and loblolly pines grow tall and straight with spreading dark green tops. They make a deeper sighing sound in the wind, unlike the higher sound of wind in the white pines up north. This sound that wind makes in the trees is called psithurism. The native grasses in the pine savanna areas being restored by prescribed burns are mostly brown now in contrast to the green saw palmettos.
Bald and pond cypress grow in the swamps where there is often standing water. They have feathery emerald green leaves with short needles. Most were green when we arrived in November. Now after some nights near freezing, the cypress trees are turning yellow, then a rich brown and the leaves are falling.
A number of species of oaks in addition to the big spreading live oaks occur around here, all with dark green leaves. Most of the Florida oaks shed their leaves in the spring when new leaves grow. The live oaks are festooned with gray-green Spanish moss, tufts of bromeliads and lots of resurrection ferns. The ferns turn brown after a number of dry days but perk up and turn green again after a rain.
Sweet gum trees have star-shaped leaves that turn yellow, then red. Red maples grow all over in the swamp forest and provide fine red color before they drop their leaves. There are few flowers out now but purple Florida lobelia, some white asters and yellow sunflowers provide nectar for the queen, buckeye, zebra longwing, monarch, and white peacock butterflies that are patrolling for nectar. We even found a few hairy shadow witch orchids blooming a few days ago with beautiful small green and white flowers.
Although we don’t think of fall colors in Florida like we do up north, there is some seasonal beauty in the woods now around the winter solstice.