Nights are cold enough now in early September at 8-10,000 foot elevations in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California to produce some beautiful color in the vegetation there.
The aspens glow yellow on the slopes above Bishop, California.
Aspen prefer cool, humid sites and can be found at 5,000-12,000 foot elevations throughout northern North America. However, along the shore of South Lake above Bishop California, the trees are restricted by the sheer rock walls above them.
Interesting note about Aspen trees: they propagate from their roots, forming clumps of clones (identical individuals). Thus one individual may be made up of dozens of stems, weigh many hundreds of pounds, and be thousands of years old (see Wikipedia’s record of largest organisms).
But unlike the towering fall color displays of the midwestern and eastern forests, most of the color is at ground or eye level.
A mat of orange-red Squaw’s carpet covers the rock surface, finding just enough soil and water in the rock crevices to survive.
Western Mountain Ash really stands out at this time of year, with its clumps of bright red berries hanging down from long stems of yellow-red leaflets.
Mountain ash were common along this trail down a steep canyon. Yes, I wondered where exactly the trail was.
The leaves were just beginning to turn yellow-red at higher elevations.
The berries of western mountain ash are bright red, but are not ready for eating yet. In fact, they may contain high levels of cyanide that will leach out during the freeze and thaw of early winter. A variety of birds and mammals will utilize this food resource during the winter.
A few late blooming perennials added to the colorful landscape.
These Scarlet Gilia flowers look made to order for any hummingbirds or moths passing by. It’s preferred habitat is exactly what you see here on the north side of this rock: little water, sandy soil, and some shade. Flower production is actually stimulated by herbivory! What a survivor.
Fireweed, so named because it is an early colonist of burned areas and produces great quantities of seed that can remain dormant in the soil for many years. If that area should burn, the seed quickly germinates in the next growing season, leading to a carpet of these purple wildflowers.
So much color in a landscape dominated by rock and a few lofty evergreen spires.