At Home With Nature

Fall Color on the Farm

As much as I love gardening during summer, the transition into autumn makes me want to give a big sigh of relief.

Along with the cooler weather, some glimpses of fall color seem to bring a promise of rest and rejuvenation to come.

And while flowers may not be what you think of when I say “fall color,” the delicate fblooms of western meadow aster are one of our first harbingers of autumn.

Western meadow aster (Symphyotrichum campestre).

This is a native flower that grows wild on our property. All summer long it just looks like a weed, until late summer when it reveals its splendor – loads of yellow-centered, purple flowers.

Our pollinator neighbors are grateful for this late season source of forage. I’ve seen bees, bee flies, and butterflies visiting these flowers – notably the Melissa blue butterfly.

Melissa blue (Plebejus melissa) butterfly on Western meadow aster flower.

On our farm, Western meadow aster grows in a community with another of our native wildflowers, curly cup gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa), a plant that bears sticky, yellow flowers. Both of these are members of the same family, Asteraceae.

Western meadow aster and curly cup gumweed.

You really don’t know what type of wildflowers might be growing on your property until you give the lawn mower a rest! These lovely native wildflowers – curly cup gumweed and Western meadow aster – both grow in masses alongside our driveway, planted by no human hands.

Western meadow aster.

But human hands did bring about the presence of many of our other autumn showy farm plants.

Chad’s hands were the ones that planted two boxelder trees to the south of our home, where they are already helping to provide shade during the summer. And in fall these native, drought-tolerant trees provide a dazzling golden show of leaves.

Boxelder tree (Acer negundo).

Perhaps the bright fall color of the boxelder isn’t so surprising – although its leaves don’t look the part, boxelder is a type of maple tree.

Chad also planted three chokecherry trees, also native to our region, to the west of our home several years ago.

Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) leaves with boxelder in background.

In addition to bearing edible fruit, and looking quite nice in fall, their leaves are favored by leafcutter bees. You can see that they have taken morsels from the edges of these leaves.

Chokecherry tree showing fall color.

Another native species that grows in the more arid parts of our property is the desert dweller, rabbitbrush. Rabbitbrush produces bright yellow flowers in the fall, and is also frequented by our local pollinators.

Rabbitbrush (Ericameria spp).

Although the leaves of our two crabapple trees haven’t started to turn colors yet, their branches are loaded with colorful pink-red fruits – which are also edible.

Crabapple (Malus spp).

One of our three-lobed sumac bushes (also called “squawberry” locally), has started to color up, with leaves taking on a muted array or pinks and oranges.

Three lobed sumac (Rhus trilobata).

Not far from the muted tones of the squashberry bush, a near relative, smooth sumac, has taken on a striking, deep red color.

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra).

Smooth sumac is also native to our region and well-adapted to our high desert climate.

Before the long, cold winter sets in, I’ll be enjoying the pleasant, mild weather and all this dazzling fall color while I’m out on the farm working on some landscaping projects.

Cottonwoods just starting to change colors.

And our fall show of color will end with the bright gold leaves of the cottonwood trees that grow on and around our farm. These native trees are just starting to show touches of gold, which means there’s still time to enjoy this transition to the colder months.

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