LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
We often associate spring with flowers, but take a look all around you. The trees are showing off their colors, and some are even blooming. Fall feels like a second springtime to me. There is a definite visual color change this time of year. Many plants are blooming and changing colors. One that I get very excited about is the flowering golden raintree in bloom right now. It’s gorgeous. It will make you do a double take when you see one.
Golden raintrees (Koelreuteria paniculata) are so striking because of their large panicles of bright yellow flowers followed by pink seed pods that are in bloom now in south Louisiana. Further north, they will bloom in late summer. Native to Asia, this tree grows well here in Louisiana and is hardy in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9.
This medium-sized tree gets to about 30 to 40 feet in height and width. It is relatively drought tolerant, can handle clay soil and air pollution, and it has no real insect or disease problems, making it very easy to care for.
Sounds like a winner, right? Well, if there is one drawback, the seed pods make it very easy to self-seed, and this is possibly its downfall for homeowners. Seeds lead to more trees with many volunteers coming up, and some folks consider it to be invasive where it’s not wanted. However, you can easily pull up young volunteers or cut them back. I think this tree is totally worth it for that signature fall bloom. It’s just one of a several trees that bring interesting fall color to Louisiana.
We may not have the color change the northern part of the country experiences, but ours is nothing to raise our noses at. Many trees provide interesting fall foliage color change for Louisiana. Consider the following.
First and foremost, none other than our state tree, the bald cypress (Taxodium disticum), displays a gorgeous orange to red color change before dropping its leaves in late November. Commonly found in swamps and around other bodies of water, it creates a display against the water that is remarkable.
Plenty of commonly used landscape species also provide color. Crape myrtles (Lagerstromia indica), Shumard oaks (Quercus shumardii), swamp red maple (Acer rubrum), Chinese pistache trees (Pistachia chinensis), flaming sumac (Rhus copallina), southern sugar maple (Acer saccharum var. floridanum), ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolia), pecan (Carya illinoinensis), hickory (Annamocarya sinensis), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), Chinese pistachio (Pistachia chinensis), Callery pears (Pyrus calleryana) and dogwood (Cornus Florida) all have unique and beautiful foliage color change.
Hollies are another interesting group of plants that provides fall color. They are all evergreen with dark green, glossy foliage and brilliant red berries in late fall into winter. They make for great winter holiday decorations. Some examples of small landscape holly trees to grow in Louisiana are Savannah holly and Foster’s holly (Ilex x attenuata Savannah and Fosteri). And of course, the native hollies include the yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), deciduous holly (Ilex decidua) and winterberry (Ilex verticillata). All are great source of food for wildlife. If you enjoy watching birds, plant some of these in the landscape.
One additional shrub with good fall foliage change and berries is nandina — commonly referred to as heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica). They are also excellent as wildlife food. These can be easily found in local retail nurseries.
Even such detested trees as sweet gum and Chinese tallow trees have gorgeous fall foliage. Flowering pears are also another great tree for fall foliage change, but its weak wood and short lifespan have made for some unattractive trees in 10 to 15 years, especially after hurricanes.
It’s very easy to include a diverse assortment of trees and shrubs in your landscape to provide a nice showing of color in fall and winter, year after year. Planning your landscapes so that it has year-round interest is easy with all of the wonderful options available.
And don’t forget: Other trees and shrubs that are blooming this time of year include cassia tree with its gorgeous yellow blooms, angel’s trumpet and ever-blooming roses such as Dream and Knock Out.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the camellias that are about to make their big show this winter. Some early-blooming varieties can be seen now. Additionally, fragrant bushes and trees such as sweet olive and banana shrub are in bloom again, making both visual and fragrant sensory pleasers.
The days are getting shorter, and we are definitely moving into winter; however, there is a small window in Louisiana where it feels like spring again. With so many new displays of color, smells and sounds in nature, it’s a great time of year for gardening.
Golden raintrees are striking because of their large panicles of bright yellow flowers followed by pink seed pods. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Ginkgo biloba leaves turn a golden yellow in fall. Photo by Bob Mirabello/LSU AgCenter
Chinese pistache tree displays showy red-orange leaves in fall. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter