Red fall color is the universal favorite, and I get it. Like everybody else, I’m a fan. There is nothing like coming upon an ‘October Glory’ red maple or a Stewartia pseudocamelia in fully saturated scarlet regalia. But I have got a complaint. While admitting that these attention seeking plants, the harlots of fall, are indeed capable of capturing and holding the attention of even a speeding bank robber as they flee the cops, text, change the CD, and finish a burrito, I still lament that maybe, just sometimes, they also distract us from enjoying some less obvious natural beauties.

‘Brandywine’ red maple.

Parrotia subaequalis, foreground, the sole subject of all conversations between plant geeks for about a decade.

Too often, I have sat there quietly while some horticultural influencer casually dismisses a plant’s fall color as “just yellow.” Every time, I want to scream, “Hey, asshole! Yellow is a color too. Last I heard, Crayola has sold as many yellow crayons as red.” But I never do. In general, I don’t make scenes. I just seethe instead. But I wonder, is it truly fair and proper, or even moral, to not pay appropriate homage to the clear, piercing, perfect yellow fall splendor of  spicebush (Lindera benzoin)? Or of bottlebrush buckeye, (Aesculus parviflora)? Or yellowood (Cladrastus kentuckea)? 


Another thing I wonder, and this is off the track a little bit, when does yellow become gold? Because I’m confused. Despite no variance in hue that I can see, the herd has decided that ginkgos are gold while yellowwoods are yellow. The power of marketing? The allure of alliteration? 

Ginkgo gold.

This is what you do the day after the night when all the ginkgo leaves drop. Michael Barnes (foreground) and Steve Foltz.

Ever the of the champion of the underrated, overlooked, and downtrodden, I have made it a point for the past decade or so to give plants with outstanding yellow foliage the credit they deserve. (Please, don’t call me a hero. And don’t start up GoFundMe account or anything. I’m just doing what anyone of my caliber would do.) 

But a funny thing happened in the process. I have come to truly appreciate the exquisite combination that happens when brown and gold are presented together. While brown has the reputation it has, I think, because there are so many really gross brown things in the world, somehow it’s just the right foil to set off yellow. Combined, they deliver a richness of tone and texture that people of exceptional taste and goodwill cannot help but savor. See what you think.  

Magnolia macrophylla (Bigleaf magnolia) at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.

Magnolia macrophylla (Bigleaf magnolia).

Sweetbay magnolia.



Sawtooth oak.

Carpinus laxiflora.