Shades of Autumn

October 17, 2022

This is the time when the Willits Valley begins getting some beautiful fall colors. The orange of the oaks, yellow of the ash and maples, and the red of the poison oak are all being prominently displayed. This year has been different from last year as we have not had any near-freezing temperatures. Many of the oaks are turning brown overall. The poison oak leaves started showing their bright red colors quite early back in August and the wonderful early September rain knocked many of those leaves onto the ground.

This time of year provides other colorful treats besides the changing trees, and last week I took some photos to share on this blog. The California Aster, Symphyotrichum chilense, just seemed to pop open all at once, its pink to purple flowers full of butterflies and all kinds of bee pollinators.

One of the common butterflies I observed was the Buckeye butterfly, Juonia coenia. Many of the butterflies I have been seeing look worn out, with battered and torn wings, but this Buckeye butterfly looked newly hatched, fresh and vibrant. The orange, yellow, and brown colors contrasted beautifully with the purple and pink of the asters.

As I traveled out further through Little Lake Valley, bright red rose hips were everywhere and there was still some blooming bright pink California Rose, Rosa californica. Many birds and animals eat the rose hips during this time of the year, and I have been finding scat from raccoons, fox, and possums full of the seeds. Fruit-eating birds such as robins and other thrushes, Western Bluebirds, and Cedar Waxwings eat the rosehips for fall and winter forage. This year the acorn and madrone berry crops are not as plentiful as last year, but the rosehips are spectacularly abundant thank goodness!

A couple of other late summer/early fall flowers I found were the Charming Centaury or Canchalagua, Zeltnera venusta, and the bright yellow California Goldentop or Goldenrod, Euthamia occidentalis.  The Canchalagua is a lovely bright pink star-shaped flower in the gentian family. There were no pollinators that I saw on them, but the Goldenrod was covered with butterflies and bees just as the asters were.

The trees may not give us much fall color until we have a frost, but in the meantime we can enjoy the more subtle colors of the shrubs and late wildflowers.