by Jim Atwater
Listen! The wind is rising And the air is wild with leaves, We have had our summer evenings, Now for October Eves!
–Autumn, by H. Wolfe
With the advent of fall it’s time again to reflect upon the changing foliage in our region. It has been a common practice for those of us seeking a glimpse of nature’s annual pyrotechnic display to travel many miles to seek the Holy Grail of autumn’s senescent beauty. When planning this we are likely to overlook the treasures in our own back yard – the superb park system which includes two of the finest plant collections in the northeast, Durand-Eastman and Highland Parks. For those determined to treat themselves to the magical change in foliage a visit to one or both of these parks is recommended.
Because of the annual Lilac Festival, Highland Park is probably the most familiar. Keep in mind however that lilacs comprise only thirty out of a 155-acre collection of plants gathered over the last 120 years from all corners of the temperate zone world. To enjoy this cornucopia of nature, by simply starting at either Warner Castle off Mt. Hope Avenue or Lamberton Conservatory at Reservoir Road and South Avenue, one has the option of a casual stroll or energetic hike depending on one’s enthusiasm, time available and weather conditions. But, for the more adventurous a trip to Durand-Eastman Park should be considered.
Two main areas comprise the arboretum at Durand-Eastman: the Sunset Road entrance to the golf course on the west and the larger area between Culver and Log Cabin Roads on the east. The latter includes Zoo, Pine Valley and Sweet Fern Roads. Enter the park off Lake Shore Drive at Zoo Road. A short distance on the right you’ll pass a small sign for fabled Katsura Glen. Proceed on until coming to the parking lot and kiosk at the park office where entry to the glen is more accessible. However, on your way to the lot keep looking to the left where you will pass a wonderful botanical treasure – three stately Chinese paperbark maples with cinnamon-hued exfoliating bark and in the fall spectacular rubescent foliage. At the parking lot walk north downhill into bewitching Katsura Glen where this visitor from Asia has found a congenial home. You will find yourself surrounded by towering gray-brown shaggy-barked trees in every direction boasting fall color of either lemon-yellow or apricot-orange. Inhale deeply, for if conditions are right you will be treated to the brown sugar-cinnamon aroma of the gently falling leaves.
Returning to your car, move on to the next parking area on the right (Rose Valley). Walk ahead through the magnolia collection keeping alert for three multi-stemmed large shrublike plants with variable-colored bark, the Persian parrotias. If conditions are favorable you will be treated to an entrancing display of red-yellow-orange fall coloration. Nearby you can see a large but somewhat squat deciduous tree, the Korean evodia, its recent display of white blossoms now gone but replaced by red fruit and black seeds glowing in the autumn sun. Back in the car continue on Zoo Road looping to the left onto Pine Valley Road where you’ll be treated to a line of our native sourwoods with their white drooping flowers and red-purple foliage contrasting brilliantly with the evergreen background.
Finally, as you approach the intersection of Pine Valley Road and Lakeshore Boulevard note next to you on the left two striking evergreen-like trees with reddish heavily-buttressed trunks. These are the legendary dawn redwoods, long believed to be extinct, but discovered in a remote valley of western China in 1944 and first planted in North America in 1948. These two are among that original planting, deciduous conifers, their reddish peeling bark and rust-colored fall coloration making them special inhabitants of this wonderful arboretum.
The plants described in this article are but a few examples of the many, both native and introduced, to be found in the park. Thanks to the Parks Department many have identification tags to satisfy the curiosity of the enterprising seeker. For those who are unable to visit the park currently, do not despair for you will find it to have many faces making a visit worthwhile at any time during the year.
Photos copyright Kimbery Burkard and RCGC, 2009.