Southern Living, November 1999, page 18FL

Fall Color Favorites

No matter what part of the South you live in, there are plants that usher in autumn with brilliance. Most of us have trouble choosing a favorite.

By Zophia Rendon

As a South Florida native, I knew when summer turned into fall - when people started taping up those cardboard cutouts of maple leaves on their windows. I didn't get a true glimpse of what most call fall color until I visited Atlanta during my first year in college.

Every year I marvel at the majestic colors of the maple and oak trees. Yet I remember my tropical autumns of the past, where the color we saw came from the blooming hibiscus and purple bougainvillea planted among the royal palms. Every place in the South has different plants that let us know it is fall, whether it be with leaves, berries, or flowers.

Malcolm Manners, professor of citrus and environmental horticulture at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, doesn't think of colored leaves when fall comes. Instead, he likes the showy Confederate rose (Hibiscus mutabilis) that welcomes autumn in much of Florida.

For Windee Willoughby, director of horticulture at Goodwood Museum and Gardens in Tallahassee, there is nothing better than Angel's trumpet (Brugmansia sp.) in the fall. "When you walk into the garden at night, the smell of the flowers is just magical." Even in South Carolina, where fall leaf color is abundant, garden designer Frances Parker loves the blooms of Cassia bicapsularis. "It is a daffodil yellow, and it just stops the tourists in their tracks," she says.

But in much of the South, leaves still capture many a gardener's heart. At the LSU Hilltop Arboretum in Baton Rouge, site director Marion Drummond likes narrow-leaved Hubrect's bluestar (Amsonia hubrectii), not for its pale blue flowers, but for its truly golden yellow fall color. "I saw at a garden center that the labels had pictures of the fall color instead of the blooms. Hats off to that grower," she says. Landscape designer Jodie Collins from San Antonio is partial to prairie flameleaf sumac (Rhus lanceolata). "It's flaming red - a nice source of color when everything else around is bare," he says. For both colorful leaves and flowers, Kim Knight an avid gardener in Blacksburg, Virginia, suggests Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha). "It has beautiful reddish brown leaves, and it also has beautiful white blooms in fall."

Berries light up the season all over the South. In Washington, D.C., landscape designer Jane MacLeish enjoys the purple berries of beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) and the orange berries of tea viburnum (Viburnum setigerum Aurantiacum). "I like to plant them together for a great mix for fall," she says. People are looking for more choices for fall berries besides the popular nandina, says Paul Moore of Moore and Moore West Garden Center in Nashville. "I particularly like native viburnum (Viburnum nudum Winterthur), because it has lustrous maroon foliage with pink and blue berries at the same time."

With so many colorful plants around the South, fall no longer has to conjure up images of only oaks and maples.