My Nymph of the Woods, in Her Autumn Color

imageTupelo’s leaves change color early in the early fall and it has been suggested that this signal might alert migrating birds to the presence of ripe fruits on the tree, a process known as foliar fruit flagging. This way the tree gets its seeds spread to farther distances.

Plants producing early colorful fall foliage and fruits include dogwood, spicebush, virginia creeper and the tupelo.  These woodies produce fruits called ‘drupes’. Drupes are stone fruits (like cherries) that have a thin outer skin, a pulpy middle and a stony center enclosing a seed. The fleshy part of these drupes is full of fat, just what a hungry, migrating bird is looking for!

Many early ripening drupes are red, and easy for birds to see, however others, like virginia creeper, tupelo and sassafras, are dark-colored and not easy to see. That makes the brightly colored leaves or ‘flags’ on these plants crucial for the fall migrants to see.

Seed dispersal obviously helps the tree species, and passing through a birds digestive system is sometimes required for the seed to germinate. This process is called ‘scarification’, which simply means the hard, outer shell of the seed needs to be compromised for the seedling to emerge. The gizzard of a bird does well to damage the outer hull of a seed.

I recently saw two Cedar Waxwings testing out the fruit on my tree… Not quite ready was my impression when the quickly flew away without dining. I had to go find out for myself and agreed, the fruit tasted like a sour cherry and needs a few more days to ripen. I hope they will be back soon =-)

tupelo-seeds       image

I bet when the day comes these are ripe, it will be a one-day event that the tree is cleared of fruit!


Zone: 3 to 9

Height: 30 to 50 feet

Spread: 20 to 30 feet

Growth: Slow

Form: Pyramidal when young; opens with age; some branches are pendulous; right angled branches are attractive in winter

Salt: Tolerant

Bloom Time: May to June, insignificant

Bloom Description: Greenish white

Fruit: 1/2″ blue drubes – edible but sour

Fall Color: yellow, orange, bright red and purple

Sun: Full sun to part shade

Water: Medium to wet

Tolerate: Clay Soil, Wet Soil


© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

19 thoughts on “My Nymph of the Woods, in Her Autumn Color

    • Every little fact I learn about nature is fascinating! 🤓
      I feel that nature is a well practiced orchestra… the untrained ear may not hear the piccolo part, but without it, the song sounds flat. A person may see the tree as beautiful, however I love to figure out why it’s beautiful/attractive. There’s always a reason.


      • I know there is a school of thought that it isn’t necessary to know the species to appreciate them, but I always feel it adds to my enjoyment. When I know a species, it feels like greeting a friend when I encounter it in the field. Plus, it is fun to know the reason 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think I’ve read somewhere that it’s the human brain that is wired to ‘name & catagorize’ things, and it drives us to know names or give names to things.
          Just like how we tend to see faces in inanimate things or give human actions/emotions to animals.
          I agree about wanting to know what I’m looking at 😉 This drive keeps me in posts! Ha ha! I see something I’m not familiar with, research it and ‘pop’, out comes a post 😉


Time to fire-up the chair-to-keyboard interface!!!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s