Garden News Blog

Bloom Alert: Autumn Color Along Belle’s Brook

Maple trees are displaying brilliant colors and oaks are finally beginning to turn russet around Brooklyn. But it’s not just trees that change to bright colors in the fall. Small shrubs and herbaceous perennials also go from green to reds, oranges, and yellows. Be sure to wander along Belle’s Brook, where you can find plants at eye level and at your feet adding to autumn’s color with various shades of red.

Willow-leaved Spicebush
Lindera angustifolia var. glabra

Native to wooded areas in western Korea, this understory shrub is planted for its loose, natural form and lush, fragrant foliage that turns shades of orange and a deep corally red in fall. By early winter, the narrow, smooth leaves become an even beige, and persist until early spring, weathering wind, ice, and snow with very little damage. As a result, the shrub can actually pop in the winter landscape against deep hues of evergreens. And take note, urban gardeners: Spicebush can be used as a loose privacy hedge—green in summer and tan in winter!

Bigroot Cranesbill
Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’

This versatile groundcover, native to southern Europe and Turkey, forms a dense, low mat of foliage in summer months. In late fall, the large, roundish, deeply lobed green leaves become a red carpet as they turn deep crimson. ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’ tolerates humidity better than many geranium species and also makes an excellent tree pit plant as it handles dry soils and some shade.

Red Chokeberry
Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brilliantissima’

This shrub native to eastern North American woodlands is double red in fall. Its foliage bursts into scarlet, as does its glossy, berrylike fruit. Its rather flouncy cultivar name, ‘Brilliantissima’, does aptly describe this small shrub. Compared to the straight species, this compact cultivar produces more fruit, and has longer-lasting, cardinal-red foliage.

Creeping Saint-John’s Wort ‘Aaron’s Beard’
Hypericum calycinum

Known primarily for its large yellow flowers exploding with showy stamens, this tough groundcover also has late fall color that’s not to be missed. Here in Brooklyn it is semi-evergreen, and leaves turn deep, cinnamon red before the brown winter dieback. Near Belle’s Brook, it is massed to make more of an impact.

Red Bistort
Persicaria amplexicaulis

This clumping perennial, native to the Himalayas, adds red to the fall landscape not with its foliage, but with its flowers. Vivid red flower heads look like clusters of glass seed beads on long stems. They stand upright above rough, puckered foliage for an exceptionally long bloom period, from June to October/November. The flower heads also make a long-lasting cut flower and can add a spiky bright red to autumn bouquets.

Mimi Jorling is a librarian at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

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Image, top of page:
Red Bistort
Persicaria amplexicaulis (red bistort) in the Plant Family Collection. Photo by Michael Stewart.
Red Chokeberry
Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brilliantissima’ (red chokeberry) in the Plant Family Collection. Photo by Michael Stewart.
Willow-leaved Spicebush
Lindera angustifolia var. glabra (willow-leaved spicebush) with fall foliage in the Plant Family Collection. Photo by Michael Stewart.
Bigroot Cranesbill
Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’ (bigroot cranesbill) showing fall colors in the Plant Family Collection. Photo by Michael Stewart.
Creeping Saint-John’s Wort
Hypericum calycinum ‘Aaron’s Beard’ (creeping Saint-John’s wort) in the Plant Family Collection. Photo by Michael Stewart.