Celebrating Fall with Nature, Books, and K-pop

Trilobed redFall is not my favorite season; I don’t look forward to colder weather.  But it is unquestionably Ohio’s best season, and every fall I look forward to the seasonal hallmarks of leaves changing and neighborhood kids Trick-or-Treating.

I love taking hikes to see the beautiful leaf color and identify all the trees.  If you live in the Midwest or Northeast, you can use these two posts to help you identify some leaves you’ll see changing right now, including oaks, maples, sassafras (at right), hickory, and others.

Fall leaf identification

How to Recognise Different Types of Trees From Quite a Short Way Away (Fall leaf ID part 2)

I also love curling up with a good book; in my Seasonal Reads series I discussed two great books that I love to re-read at this time of year: one a classic eerie tale, and one a funny and thrilling modern urban fantasy.

Seasonal Reads: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Seasonal Reads: Dead Beat

And if you want some background music for while you are reading, you can check out these K-pop music videos will a plethora of clowns, zombies, and crazy costumes.

K-pop MVs (Halloween Special): Block B’s “Jackpot”

What helps you get into the fall season?

Sailor Eppendorf and Falcon Tube (me!) in the lab

How to Recognise Different Types of Trees From Quite a Short Way Away (Fall leaf ID part 2)

We just took a family weekend trip to Deer Creek State Park in central Ohio and enjoyed some nice hiking with the fall color.  I took a bunch of pics of what I saw, so here’s another round of leaves for you guys to spot in your backyards and neighborhoods.  You can also use this wonderful website from the Ohio Public Library Information Network and the Ohio Historical Society to identify others.

Hickory (Carya spp.)

Hickories have stunning yellow color in the fall and are also easily identified by their nuts.  Their leaves characteristically have 3 terminal leaflets that are larger than the basal leaflets.  There are several species of hickory to be found in Ohio, and I’ve done my best to identify these.

The shellbark (Carya lacinios) and shagbark (Carya ovata) hickory leaves are much larger than the pignut hickory (Carya glabra).  Shellbark typically have 7 leaflets, and are more commonly found in central/southern Ohio in the Ohio River valley.  Shagbark and pignut both typically have 5 leaflets and are found all over the state.

American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

WP_001310This one almost fooled me with its 3 symmetrical palmate lobes, but it’s not a maple; it’s a sycamore.  The lobes are so shallow they practically don’t exist.  These leaves are quite large and have nice fall color.

Palmate here means that the midrib of each lobe radiates from the same point, just as the fingers of a hand radiate from the palm.






Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)

WP_001299Also spelled “paw paw,” you may have heard of this tree from the American folk song about dear little Nellie “way down yonder in the pawpaw patch.”  This is another large leaf; the tree itself, though, is often found in the undergrowth rather than the canopy of the forest.  The leaves contain a natural insecticide, so are not very palatable to wildlife.  Pawpaw fruits, however, are said to be tasty, like a banana or mango.

Aside from the large size of the leaf, another good identifying feature is its very short stem; in this picture, I haven’t really cut off any of the stem at the bottom–that’s just all there is.




Osage orange (Maclura pomifera)

This was my favorite discovery of the weekend.  The Osage orange, also called hedge apple, is more native to the southern US, but has now been spread all over.  The leaf is mid-sized and widest near the base, with smooth edges and a tapered tip.

But the coolest thing is the tree’s fruit: it looks like a bumpy tennis ball.  I had literally never seen one of these before!  We came across a lot of these during our hikes, and my father-in-law was able to identify it as a fruit from his childhood in Virginia.  A little bit of Googling later, and the mystery was solved.

Fall leaf identification

When I moved to Ohio, my 7th grade science teacher assigned us a fall leaf project: we had to collect and ID about a dozen different leaves.  It was so much fun and the information has stuck with me all these years.  Although I am a zoologist by training, not a botanist, I love knowing more about my natural surroundings.

My husband and I were raking leaves yesterday on a beautiful autumn day, and I spotted some lovely specimens.  Here’s a sampling of some of the trees in our yard, and maybe from your yard, too!

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)

Sassafras leaves can be confusing because they can look several different ways.  They can have a normal leaf shape (unilobed), or a glove shape (bilobed), or like a trident (trilobed).  The colors are beautiful, ranging from red to orange to yellow, and often a mix in one leaf.

Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)


The tulip tree (no relation to tulip flowers) also has a distinctive leaf.  These turn a beautiful golden yellow in fall.









Maples, specifically Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

There are several different kinds of maples in Ohio, and one common iconic one is the red maple.  These trees obviously turn bright red in the fall.  There are usually only 3 lobes on red maple leaves, and they are not deeply divided.  The outer lobes kind of point upward.  I also found another kind of maple in my yard, which I suspect is a Freeman maple (Acer x freemanii), a hybrid combination of a red maple and a silver maple.  See how the lobes are more deeply divided than the red maple, and it looks like there are 5 lobes instead of 3.  These trees are also sold as Autumn Blaze (a trademarked name) because of their beautiful fall color.  You can see a nice comparison of these 3 maples leaves here.

Oaks, specifically White Oak (Quercus alba) and Red Oak (Quercus rubra)

Oak trees are much less exciting for fall color.  Sometimes they turn yellowy-brown, or reddish-brown.  But mostly just brown.  We have several oaks in  front of our house (the squirrels love our yard!)  White oaks have rounded lobes; I saw lots that were a pretty red color.  Red oaks have pointed lobes that are less deeply divided, but the leaves I found were not as vibrant, being more to the “brown” end of reddish-brown.

I am not as good at telling oak trees apart, so I had to ask the internet for help.  If you want help IDing trees, here’s a great resource: the Oregon State University plant identification page.