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Oakleaf Hydrangea Plants for Fall Colors

Hydrangeas With Flowers and Fall Foliage, Too

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Fall Foliage of Virginia Creeper Vines

Fall foliage of Virginia creeper vines.

David Beaulieu

The scientific name for oakleaf hydrangea plants is Hydrangea quercifolia. These bushes put out white flowers in summer that fade to a pinkish-brown in fall. But the plant's inclusion on this list is due to its foliage, not its flowers. Its oak leaf-like foliage turns reddish, bronzy-orange or purplish in the fall. Tolerant of light shade, they achieve a height of 4-6' and a spread of 4-6'.

There are three plants with "bittersweet" in their names. The plant to which I refer in this list of best plants for fall colors is American bittersweet, a vine native to North America. Oriental bittersweet vines (Celastrus orbiculatus) are attractive, to be sure, but terribly invasive when removed from their homeland. For those shopping in North America, make sure you go to a reputable nursery, where you can trust that what you're buying is truly American bittersweet.

American bittersweet is a must-have for those serious about providing the landscape with fall color. The berries, green in summer, bear a yellow husk in early fall. Even at this stage, they provide a truly striking display of fall color. But this initial treat is merely a foretaste of the splendor to come. For, as autumn progresses, the husk peels back, revealing an orange berry within. And as if that weren't enough, the numerous leaves of the vine turn a vivid yellow.

Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) reaches a height of 6-10' and a spread of 3-5'. This shrub has white flowers in early spring, which become glossy red berries in the summer. In autumn the berry color can turn deeper, almost to purple, providing interesting fall color. Although this shrub tolerates poor soil and shade, landscapers seeking maximum fall color from its berries should plant it in a sunny locale.

If you're familiar with the fall color of Boston ivy and -- dare I mention the accursed name? -- poison ivy, then you can probably guess that Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is a colorful character in the autumn. Related to Boston ivy, it is commonly mistaken for poison ivy. The range of its fall color can be pretty wide (anywhere from a reddish-purple to a reddish orange). It's a gorgeous plant in autumn, but it can also be a nuisance, as I relate in my Virginia creeper article.

Finally, Viking black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa 'Viking') bears white flowers in May with dark green foliage. The foliage morphs first to red, then to purple in the fall. Reaching a height of 3-5' and spreading out to 3-5', the plant tolerates wet soil better than most. The berries produced by this shrub grow in clusters and are a blackish-purple. Although not edible for humans, the bitter-tasting berries remain on the shrub well into the winter and serve as an emergency food source for birds. The same is true for two other plants on this list: bittersweet and sumac. Not an insignificant characteristic, considering the fact that many aficionados of fall color are also birdwatchers.

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