Sometime after Labor Day when the kids go back to school, I begin to notice subtle signs of fall. This can be a welcome relief after a particularly hot summer with temperatures reaching north of 100 degrees. But the days are getting markedly shorter, and I miss the lazy summer evenings spent outdoors, listening to the sounds of nature.
The changing season is not without its own special charm however. The crisp morning and evening air makes jogging, mountain biking or hiking, especially in the hills of the Boise National Forest, more pleasant than it was in mid-summer. A few late-season flowers are still blooming and things are, for the most part, still green. But the green “blur” is starting to give way to an emerging palette of color.
Here in the Intermountain West, we don’t have the spectacular fall color display like they do on the East Coast. But we can still celebrate the autumn equinox, since many of our native plants take on lovely fall hues between September and November.
Unlike the tall stately maples back east, Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum) is a shrub to small tree with many stems. Not to be outdone by its eastern cousins, Rocky Mountain maple sports showy fall foliage ranging from red to orange to yellow. This hardy maple grows in mid-elevation forests from British Columbia to Colorado.
Berries are numerous at this time of year, a bounty for our local mammals and birds. On a recent day hike on the Mountain Home Ranger District, I spotted black-headed grosbeaks and chipmunks feasting on bitter cherries (Prunus emarginata), chokecherries (Prunus virginiana), and wax currants (Ribes cereum).
One of my favorite shrubs, Greene’s mountain ash (Sorbus scopulina) can turn entire slopes ablaze with its profusion of scarlet leaves in the fall. Its clusters of bright red-orange berries are highly prized by cedar waxwings and other birds.
Since the fall colors change each week, don’t miss out on nature’s remarkable display. Be sure to get outside and discover fall’s splendor on our national forests, grasslands and other public lands. And don’t forget your camera!