Sep 11, 2010
If you are trying to learn tree identification, certain times of year are better than others. Right now is the time to learn black gum, sourwood, sumac and tuliptree. These trees get a head start on fall, turning colors while the rest of the trees remain green.
Tulips are turning yellow, the others red. Sumac tends toward fiery tones like you might see in a sunset. It also has compound leaves, and if it has produced fruit, the red, conical berry clusters are distinctive. Sourwood takes on regal tones that approach purple.
Black gum has the purest reds. Gums start losing leaves as soon as its fruit ripens, possibly as a signal to birds to come eat. Migrating thrushes are especially fond of black gum fruits. Leaves begin to turn red in August, but it takes weeks for all the leaves to turn, so there are always a few bright red ones on any tree at any point during fall migration.
Right now, all these trees are recognizable at a glance, so it's a good time for roadside dendrology. As you drive around, you can get a sense for how abundant these species are, where they grow and what is distinct about their growth form. As other trees start to turn, new colors will appear and the roster of trees you have learned to identify will get a bit longer.