Fall colors and where to find them

Oct 16, 2020
From bright red to golden yellow, get to know some of Central Oregon's colorful plants, and discover where to find them this fall!


By Rebekah Ratcliff


Colorful leaves abound as Central Oregon’s days get shorter, nights get colder, and winter creeps closer and closer. Sure, the biochemical process of color-changing foliage is incredible, but there is something truly magical about immersing yourself in a landscape painted with bright reds, yellows, and golds! Discover six of our favorite plants for fall colors and where you might be able to find them before the season turns.

Grove of aspen turn bright yellow in the fall. Photo: Byron Dudley.
Grove of aspen turn bright yellow in the fall. Photo: Byron Dudley.
1. Aspen  Turning a bright golden yellow, aspen trees with their nearly round leaves and white trunks are a burst of color in Central Oregon. Aspens grow in colonies. Their root systems can be thousands of years old, even though the trees themselves only live 50-150 years. Look for aspen groves at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve in and around Hindman Springs and as you take in views of the lower meadow. Aspen Trees shouldn’t only be appreciated for their beauty, they also provide habitat for a variety of wildlife!




Golden fern on the forest floor. Photo: Jay Mather.
Golden fern on the forest floor. Photo: Jay Mather.
2. Bracken Fern  Walking among bracken fern can be like walking through a sea of gold during the fall! These ferns are known for their large and highly divided leaves. During the fall their once lush green leaves transition into a golden-yellow covering on the forest floor. Look for them along the Pine Trails at the Metolius Preserve

 

 




Western larch lose their needles in the fall. Photo: Tim Cotter.
Western larch lose their needles in the fall. Photo: Tim Cotter.
3. Larch  Western larch is one of a handful of deciduous conifers that sheds its needles each fall and grows new ones in the spring. Though after they’ve lost their needles they may look a bit scraggly, if you can catch them at the right time their needles will light up the forest with bright lemon-yellow color. You can find larch by venturing into the Metolius Preserve from the North Trailhead. Keep your eyes open, you may even spot some on your way to the Preserve!

 



Rabbitbrush blooms in the late summer. Photo: Malcolm Lowery.
Rabbitbrush blooms in the late summer. Photo: Malcolm Lowery.
4. Rabbitbrush  As summer wildflowers fade away, an abundance of yellow begins to appear in the Central Oregon desert. Fall is the time for rabbitbrush to shine. These shrubs are filled with tight clusters of small, yellow, tubular flowers providing late-season pollen for insects before winter arrives. Look for these shrubs along  the Meadow Trails at Whychus Canyon Preserve. While you’re there, don’t miss the scenic overlooks into the canyon of Whychus Creek--, it’s bound to be full of fall colors!




Vine maple leaves burst forth in orange and red during the fall. Photo: Tim Cotter.
Vine maple leaves burst forth in orange and red during the fall. Photo: Tim Cotter.
5. Vine Maple  These trees are found along shaded stream banks throughout the Pacific Northwest. In the fall, they put on a spectacular show, brightening the area with their fall foliage. Trees can grow up to 25 feet tall. Branches are often twisting or sprawling from the base, and their leaves change from a bright green to vibrant orange and red in the fall! Look for them near Lake Creek at the Metolius Preserve, or along some of your other favorite Central Oregon streams!





Willow line Central Oregon creeks in color during the fall. Photo: Land Trust.
Willow line Central Oregon creeks in color during the fall. Photo: Land Trust.
6. Willow  Another colorful plant you will find along many Central Oregon streams are the willows. These plants thrive along the edges and banks of streams and are incorporated in many of our creek restoration projects. During the fall their leaves turn bright yellow, and as their leaves fall they begin to reveal an abundance of red stems! Watch for willows along  Indian Ford Creek as you walk the Founders Trail at Indian Ford Meadow Preserve





Bonus: There are plenty of other colorful  plants to find as you wander Central Oregon in the fall. Year after year, you can learn more about the plants that grow here. Some change color very early in the fall and still others wait until things are quite cold. Next year, add red osier dogwood and serviceberry to your fall color plant lists! Though you may have to wander a few different trails to catch them all, we definitely think nature’s colorful bounty is worth it!

 

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