When we think of Autumn, the first thing that comes to mind is the magical transition of lush greenery to hues of red, purple and gold, which eventually drop from the tree and cover the ground like a mosaic carpet. This creates an atmosphere of warm, vibrant impressionistic colours that we all love. And it only lasts for a couple of months before it vanishes into the cold depths of winter.
Why do the leaves of trees change colour during Autumn?
As autumn approaches, trees begin to break down the green chlorophyll in their leaves into nutrients and then they redistribute these nutrients to their trunk and roots to store over winter. This keeps them going throughout the winter when sunlight is sparse.
The yellow colour seen in some autumn trees results from the loss of chlorophyll simply unmasking the yellow that was there all along. But red colouration comes from a pigment called anthocyanin, which has to be made afresh as autumn takes hold. Click here to read more about the science behind leaf colour.
Here are the top 10 most beautiful Autumn Foliage Trees.
- Nyssa Sylvatica ‘Tulepo’ Tree
- Pistacia chinensis ‘Chinese Pistacio’
- Acer Palmatum ‘Osakazuki’ Japanese Maple
- Acer Freemanii ‘Jeffers Red Maple’
- Sweetgum – Liquidambar Styraciflua
- Claret Ash -Fraxinus oxycarpa ‘Raywoodii’
- Golden Ash – Fraxinus excelsior Aurea
- Scarlet Oak – Quercus coccinea
- Tulip Tree – Liriodendron tulipifera
- Chinese Tallow Tree – Triadic Sebifera
Honourable Mentions for amazing Autumn Trees:
- Acer Palmatum ‘Senkaki/Coral Bark’ Japanese Maple
- Cercis Canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’
- Ginkgo biloba ‘Maidenhair Tree’
- Robinia ‘Frisia’ Golden Robinia
- Parrotia ‘Persian Witchhazel’
- Gleditsia triacanthos inermis ‘Ruby Lace’
- Cotinus coggygria ‘Smoke Bush’
- Pseudolarix ‘Golden Larch’
- Lagerstroemia Crepe Myrtle
Nyssa sylvatica ‘Tulepo’ Tree
The Tupelo Tree is a beautiful deciduous specimen tree with a pyramidal shape. A magnificent tree in autumn when the leaves turn orange to scarlet. Likes moist, moderately fertile, well-drained soil in full sun and tolerates wet conditions well. Also called the Black Tulepo, it has a fast growth habit and is a spectacular feature tree. Grows to about 12m high x 6m wide.
Pistacia chinensis ‘Chinese Pistacio’
The Chinese Pistachio is a tree that offers the ideal combination of aesthetics and versatility for a wide range of landscapes. It bears fine foliage in a wide range of Autumn colours including bright yellow-orange, crimson or scarlet, and rich green in Summer.
Prefers to be placed in a position of full sunlight but can cope with partial shade. This tree grows fast in suitable conditions, and will not grow above 8 metres tall. Once established it is very hardy.
The Osakazuki Maple is a large bushy deciduous shrub or small tree, whose foliage is green but turns to a brilliant orange-scarlet in autumn.
An Osakazuki is best placed in a position of partial or full sunlight and moist but well-drained soils. Grows to a height of 2-4 meters. This shrub requires low maintenance once established. Ideal as a focal point of the garden.
Acer Freemanii ‘Jeffers Red Maple’
The Jeffers Red Maple is a gorgeous maple that hosts some of the best Autumn colours around, with a blend of yellow, orange, copper, rust and vivid reds gracing its branches. It has a lovely compact shape and a single straight trunk that looks as if it has been pleached naturally (bare lower trunk). With a medium rate of growth, this tree will grow to 8m, is not too particular about the soil quality, is mildly drought tolerant and tolerates frost. Fantastic for a feature tree, in parks, on industrial sites or in avenue plantings, this tree is sure to please.
Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Sweetgum’
The Sweetgum is a well known, tough and attractive deciduous tree that is a good choice as a specimen for larger gardens and in park plantings. Sweetgum is renowned as a source of strong, extended autumn colour and makes excellent shade trees, where space permits.
There is a slightly different cultivar called the Liquidambar ‘Burgundy’ Sweetgum which resembles the species very closely but is distinguished by its exceptional purple-red to autumnal colour and by leaves that remain longer on the tree in the autumn
Another smaller option would be the grafted Liquidambar Gumball, which is a standard form that grows to around 2m tall.
Claret Ash -Fraxinus oxycarpa ‘Raywoodii’
An attractive, some say fast-growing deciduous tree with an upright growth habit and open canopy. The foliage is deep green and narrow in summer and as autumn approaches, turns a rich claret colour, hence the name. This is a beautiful tree with stunning autumn colours, tolerant of frost and drought. Mature height up to 12m high x 7m wide.
Golden Ash – Fraxinus excelsior aurea
Golden Ash is an attractive deciduous tree for all seasons, with a rounded crown. The foliage is a light yellow colour turning pale green in summer. In autumn the foliage turns a brilliant golden yellow that is the main feature of this tree. In winter the young branches are yellow with distinctive black buds. A stunning tree with multi-seasonal interest. It grows to about 8m x 5m.
Scarlet Oak – Quercus coccinea
This lovely sturdy Oak is popular due to its spectacular Autumn display, when the dark green foliage turns to shades of orange, bronze and brilliant red, displaying more intense colour the colder the environment. It holds its foliage, sometimes into early Winter, and in Spring will produce acorns when the tree is mature. Similar to the Red Oak and Pin Oak, but generally preferred for its more brilliant Autumn display. Growing up to 12 metres, it would be best suited to a large garden and would look stunning as an avenue planting. It requires a position in full sun to part shade and is fairly adaptable to its surrounding environment.
Tulip Tree – Liriodendron tulipifera
Also known as the tulip tree, American tulip tree, tulipwood, tuliptree, tulip poplar, whitewood, fiddle tree, and yellow poplar. The Tulip Tree is a beautiful tall tree with large leaves that have a lovely unique shape and smooth soft texture. A fast-growing deciduous hardwood tree, Tulip Trees have striking yellow-green orange flecked coloured flowers. They are solitary flowers that sit in the extreme-most upper branches. The flowers resemble tulips, hence the name. For an avenue, we recommend planting these trees 7m apart or for a screen 3m apart.
Chinese Tallow Tree – Triadic Sebifera
Chinese Tallow Tree has rapid growth, precocious and prolific seeding, adaptability to a wide variety of soil conditions, tolerance of both drought and frost. This deciduous tree has an upright habit and is long-lived. Slender flowers are displayed in Spring. This attractive small tree displays round or oval sharply pointed foliage; that turn red in Autumn.
Here are a few more superb Autumn foliage trees that have little extra features that make them very attractive and popular.
Acer Palmatum ‘Senkaki/Coral Bark’ Japanese Maple
Also known as Sango-kaku, or Coral Bark Maple, you simply can’t miss the Senkaki Maple with its distinctive coral-red bark, which contrasts with its bright green leaves in Spring and Summer. Autumn sees the foliage turn gold and eventually, winter leaves you with a beautiful bare sculpture of a tree with striking red bark. One of the beauty queens of all deciduous trees. It forms a beautiful vase-shaped tree that grows to approximately 5m high and 4m wide.
Cercis Canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’
The Forest Pansy is an incredibly beautiful small growing deciduous tree with colourful heart-shaped foliage. It is noted for its gorgeous rose-purple flowers which bloom profusely on bare branches in early spring before the foliage emerges, first red in spring, then deep purple-tinged green in summer, then turning all shades of yellow, red and orange in Autumn.
This tree requires low maintenance and is perfect for small gardens and courtyards. Should be planted in either full sunlight or partial shade and in well-drained soil.
Ginkgo biloba ‘Maidenhair Tree’
The Ginkgo or Maidenhair Tree is remarkably known as a ‘living fossil’, as it is the sole survivor of an ancient group of trees that date back beyond the time of the dinosaurs. It is a perfect specimen or feature tree due to its long life and showy light green leaves which turn golden in Autumn. The leaves are an interesting ruffled fan shape.
The Maidenhair Tree remains virtually unchanged today and represents the only living bridge between ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ plants (between ferns and conifers). Maidenhair trees can be extremely long-lived, the oldest recorded individual being 3,500 years old.
Robinia ‘Frisia’ Golden Robinia
Golden Robinia has beautiful yellow Spring leaves which deepen in colour to a fresh lime-yellow during Summer, then turn golden-yellow in Autumn, before falling.
A visual standout amongst other trees, this Robinia tree is an all-round tough plant suitable for many different landscape uses. Whether as a magnificent specimen or a street tree in polluted and industrial areas, it grows with vigour and strength.
Parrotia ‘Persian Witchhazel’
Also known as Persian Ironwood, Perssian Witchhazel is a slow growing, small deciduous tree. It features deep green glossy leaves with uneven shallowly scalloped edges, colouring to beautiful gold and crimson tints in autumn, and an open vase-shaped head on a short trunk. Suitable only for cooler areas in any reasonable soil with good drainage. Withstands dry conditions and exposure to wind once established.
Gleditsia triacanthos inermis ‘Ruby Lace’
Gleditsia Ruby Lace trees are proven as hardy street and shade trees, being fast-growing, heat and drought tolerant. They are well-suited for the demands of urban environments. The trees grow with an open, spreading canopy and have attractive, elegant, somewhat weeping foliage.
The “Ruby Lace” variety grows to a small to a medium-sized tree and is distinctive for its shiny foliage that emerges as ruby-red, turning bronzy-green and then to a beautiful yellow-gold in Autumn.
Smoke Bush – Cotinus coggygria
Smoke Bush is a gem in the garden thanks to its unique blend of colours that change throughout the seasons. A large deciduous shrub or small tree, its beautiful eye-catching Spring foliage is green overlaid with purple. Summer brings deep purple foliage that then turns deep orange and bronze in a burst of glory for an Autumn show. Special smoke bush varieties offer variations on this beautiful shifting colour scheme.
Smoke bush gets its name from the clouds of smoke-like purple and pink “flowers” it produces in early Summer. These are very beautiful themselves and are prized along with the foliage by florists. Grows best in full sun to partial shade and it is tolerant of drought and most soils, making it a great addition to many gardens.
It is available in 4 different varieties which have slightly different colours.
Pseudolarix ‘Golden Larch’
A cone-shaped tree with soft green needle-like foliage, the Golden Larch is a unique tree in that it is one of the only deciduous conifers (pines etc) in the world. During autumn, the needles turn a golden yellow. It produces deep purple cone-shaped fruit in summer. Plant in well-drained soil.
Crepe Myrtle – Lagerstroemia
Crepe myrtles are simply the world’s best summer-flowering trees. Intense flower colour, a long flowering season, good autumn colour, handsome bark and attractive spring foliage mean they are enjoyed in all seasons. They are deciduous trees or small shrubs that range in size from around 3-8m fully grown. Crepe Myrtle’s are popular due to their beautiful crepe-paper textured flowers, and the fact that they remain relatively small as a tree in most conditions. Flowers come in a variety of colours, from deep reds to hot pinks, purples and white.
That’s it for this list. Keep an eye out for our next exciting list: Top 10 Autumn Shrubs.
Autumn Garden Colour Folliage Trees. Melbourne, Victoria. Australia.
Hello Hello Plants. 1477 Sydney Road, Campbellfield.