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Drew Monkman: October, when the forests turn to golden yellow

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From May's gentle pastels and summer's kaleidoscope of greens to early fall's dazzling reds and oranges, each time of year has its signature colours. Now, as we move into the second half of October, yellow is taking over centre stage.

Once the red and sugar maples have shed their leaves, the main show belongs to the aspens, poplars, birch, tamaracks and oaks. Only a matter of days ago, most of these species were simply part of the green blur, but they'll soon stand out like yellow beacons on the landscape.

The trembling aspen is the most widely distributed tree in North America and one of my favourite species. The round, heart-shaped leaves change from lime green in spring to emerald in summer and, finally, to lemon-yellow in fall. Not only are the leaves beautiful to look at, but they also produce their own soothing music. Their flattened leaf stem allows them to quiver at the slightest breeze, hence the name "trembling." Why the aspen has evolved such flexible leaves is still a matter of speculation, but it may be to help protect the tree from strong winds by allowing the wind's energy to pass through the canopy more or less uninterrupted.

Although somewhat less common, the bigtooth aspen is an equally attractive tree. The leaves are larger than those of trembling aspen, with curved teeth on the margins. While most of the leaves do become bright yellow in the fall, some acquire rich shades of orange.

Balsam poplar, a tree of moist, low-lying habitats, also turns various hues of yellow in October. Almost as widespread as trembling aspen, balsam poplar has resinous, fragrant buds that perfume the spring air. It is the smell of May in the Kawarthas. The buds also possess medicinal qualities and exude a resin that is used to make balm of Gilead. Besides smelling wonderful, the balm is said to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities.

By month's end, tamaracks reach their colour zenith. Lime-green in early spring and smoky gold by late October, tamaracks are one of our most beautiful and interesting trees. They are the only conifer to lose all its needles in the fall. As the great American conservationist, Aldo Leopold, wrote so eloquently, the ground becomes "dusted with tamarack gold." Our other conifers, such as pines........

© Peterborough Examiner