Seeing hills and valleys ablaze with color is a special autumn event. Many variables influence how bright the colors will be, such as sunlight, temperature, rainfall, and soil conditions. These will cause color variations of a given tree from one year to the next or even differences in various portions of the same tree.
Another factor that affects forest color is tree species. Our area is blessed with a wide variety of trees, shrubs, and vines (over 200 species) that makes our forests extra colorful. The presence of a large number of plants having brilliant fall foliage is globally a rare thing, and the only other places in the world with a similar abundance of foliage colorations are northern China, Korea, and Japan. Here is a partial list of trees and shrubs categorized by the predominate color they produce:
YELLOW: Post oak, buckeye, beech, birch, elm, hickory, witch hazel, black walnut, sycamore, sassafras, redbud.
GOLD: Willow oak, yellow poplar, ironwood, ash, sugar maple
ORANGE: Hawthorn, northern red oak, sassafras, sugar maple
SCARLET: White oak, blackgum, sweetgum, sourwood, ironwood.
PURPLE: Sweetgum, ash.
BROWN: Chestnut oak, post oak, magnolia, boxelder, persimmon, black walnut, catalpa, black oak, northern red oak.
RED: Scarlet oak, red maple, dogwood, sassafras, hawthorn, sumacs.
RED-BROWN: Black Cherry, Serviceberry, wild plum, ailanthus, Virginia creeper.
It is possible to enhance the fall coloration around your home by selecting landscape trees that produce the color mixtures you want. You can also improve striking color combinations of woodland areas by selectively removing tree species with dull or unwanted colors and encouraging those with high color contrast. Keep pines or other evergreens mixed in with the stand to add variety and keep the winter scene from being too bleak. This is probably a project you would only do in woodlands that are highly visible from your home or driveway.