Go now. Drive along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. Seldom a better fall show than one experienced there. Red maples, sugar maples, hickories, ashes, and more deciduous trees contribute to the collage of fall colors. But in this park, the tulip trees have a unique story.
In a survey done in Shenandoah in 1940, there were no tulip tree groves to be found. By 1990, tulip trees covered sixteen percent of the park.
Tulip trees, or yellow poplars as they are sometimes called, grow in moist sites. They are tall straight trees that have whitish bark. In late spring they blossom with large orange and yellow tulip-shaped flowers. They are not tulips at all but actually part of the magnolia family. They are frequently found in uniform stands. Because of their fast growth rate they shade out many other plants. Morel mushrooms and puttyroot orchid are some of the few understory life forms found in tulip tree groves.
Tulip trees are a “gap” species. This means that they can sit in the understory of a forest and grow very slowly until they get more sunlight. When an opportunity that allows enough sunlight to reach the forest floor occurs, they take advantage of it and speed up their growth rate. Events that open up the forest floor to sunlight would include a tornado, storm, fire, or human activity like lumbering. Tulip trees are often found in old home sites, along forest edges or former orchards.
One tulip tree grove is found at mile marker 8 in the northern section of the park. In the fall, the filigreed canopy of bright yellow leaves attract an abundance of leaf watchers especially in the evening when the sunlight streams through and highlights the leaves like golden Christmas ornaments.
(by Ann and Rob Simpson, excerpted with modification, from Shenandoah NaturePod)
Down South we tell stories about Jack. He’s been around for a long time and some of the stories are said to date back to Scotland and Ireland. I am sure that you’ve met Jack before. He’s famous for his exploits with a goose and a beanstalk. But today I would like to share with you another of the many Jack Tales told through the ages.
Every decade it is said that Saint Peter leafs through his book at the Pearly Gates and chooses a subject that seems to sit on the fence. Has he done enough to earn entrance to heaven or should he be banished to the other place?
This one year, Saint Peter came across Jack’s name. On the positive side was a long list of good deeds Jack had done for strangers who passed his way. But on the next page was a litany of dreadful things Jack had done to his own neighbors. “What was this man like”, Saint Peter thought, “someone who could be kind to strangers and ugly to those he lived with?”
Saint Peter had to see for himself, so he disguised himself and hurried down to East Tennessee. He came across Jack working in his blacksmith shop. Dressed in rags and looking disheveled, Saint Peter opened the shop door and asked, “Good sir, I am a weary traveler could I rest a moment here at your shop?” Jack stopped and looked up.
“Sure, stranger,” he said as he crossed the hard packed dirt floor. “In fact, take-a-sit here in my favorite chair.” Jack guided the stranger to a well-worn rocking chair sitting in the corner. Saint Peter was surprised. It was the most comfortable chair he had ever sat in. He was about to comment when Jack turned back to him and said, “I have a bowl-o-beans and a bite-a-cornbread here. Care for some?”
“Thank you sir, I would.” Saint Peter enjoyed the bread and beans while rocking comfortably in the chair. Finally, he confessed, “Jack, I don’t understand you. I am Saint Peter and I have looked at your deeds. You are kind to travelers like me, but difficult on your neighbors. If you continue in this way, I am afraid that I will not be allowed to welcome you into heaven. But I can offer you a chance to improve your life. As a thank you for your kind hospitality, I will offer you three wishes. Use them to make things better.”
Jack mumbled, “Make things better… make things better…” and then louder, “I git three wishes to make things better? I know just the thang for my first wish.”
“Excellent Jack, what can I grant you?”
“See here, Saint Peter, ya see that thar chair you’re a sittin’ in? Well my neighbors come by and set themselves into that thar chair and start yammerin’ away at me. I can’t get a dang thing done.”
“Yes… so what would you like me to do?”
“I want the next person that sits in that thar chair to be rocked so turrible that they get thrown across the shop.”
“Jack, that’s an awful wish. I can’t do that.”
“But you said any wish.”
“OK Jack, but let’s make the next two wishes a bit more positive. What’ll it be?”
“OK, see this here hammer? Some of my so-called friends will come by and pick it up without permission. The next time someone does that, I want this here hammer to smack them over-n-over-n-over in the face.”
“Jack!” Saint Peter said horrified. “That is an atrocious wish. I just can’t grant you something like that.”
“I thought so, you really don’t want to help me do you?”
“Jack, I do, I really do want to help you, but these wishes…
“I can be nicer to my neighbors if they ain’t sitting here botherin’ me an’ stealing my tools.”
“OK Jack, I’ll give you the wish. But this third one has got to be a good one.”
“Did you see my rose bush as you came in?” Jack inquired.
“Yes, Jack, I did. It is a beautiful bush with such lovely flowers. Would you like me to make it bloom more often? More colorful? Would you like a second one to go on the other side of the door? Maybe one for a friend? Tell me, what can I do for you and your lovely rose?”
“No, that’s not what I want,” Jack replied. “I want that bush to grab at the next rascal who comes by an’ thrash him about until his clothes are torn to shreds.”
“Oh Jack!” Saint. Peter was horrified.
“Yep, that’s what I want,” Jack nodded.
“As much as I hate this, I will grant your wish. But Jack, I pray you change your ways.” And with that, Saint Peter got up and left Jack’s little shop.
“What?” said Jack, “I cain’t go now. Cain’t you see I’m busy? Tell you what though, you just go take a seat over yonder on that rocker. I’ll finish up straightaway and then we can be off.”
The devil was a bit put-off, but decided to take a seat and not put up a fight. At the instant his bottom touched the seat the rocker lurched forward violently and then slammed back. Viciously it jolted him forward and back, like a cowboy riding a demon bull. Finally the chair threw the devil all the way across the dirt floor. He crumpled into a heap along the edge of the log wall.
The devil sprang up infuriated. “I’ll git you!” he shouted, and rushed across the shop. Before Jack could react, the devil ripped his hammer from his hand. He raised the hammer up to strike Jack, but at that very moment, the hammer came to life. It turned and struck the devil square across the bridge of his nose. Again and again it struck him beating and bloodying him until the blows finally ceased and the devil dropped the hammer.
The devil was now so incensed he could hardly speak. He staggered around trying to get his bearings. Now, he just wanted to get out. He wobbled on his cloven hooves out the door past the ‘ole rosebush. Suddenly, a calamity arose just outside. Jack knew what was happening. He looked outside when it was all over. The Devil stumbled to his feet, his red garment torn, tattered, and bloody. Rose leaves and petals were tangled in his hair. The devil glared at Jack. Fiery anger seethed in his eyes. Then he turned and got out-a-there.
Many years passed and Jack, finally old and tired, died. He went to the Pearly Gates and met Saint Peter again. But Jack’s list of bad deeds was just too long.
Jack turned and traveled the long road down to the other place. As he approached the gates he saw two little devils playing outside. They spotted Jack approaching and dashed away inside, slamming the gate shut behind them. Jack reached the gate, picked up a large rock, and knocked. The heavy metal reverberated with a loud clang. Jack waited.
Clippity-clop, clippity-clop, Jack heard hoof-steps approaching the gate. A small metal door slid open and the Devil barked, “What do you want, Jack?”
“Saint Peter sent me. He said I cain’t go to heaven, so I have to come here.”
“Well, I don’t want you either, Jack. You’re trouble!”
Jack didn’t know what to do. He sat down as he heard the Devil walk away. A few minutes passed and he heard the Devil return, clippity-clop, clippity-clop. Locks and chains slipped from the gates and the heavy metal doors cracked open just a few inches. The devil stuck his nose out and called Jack over.
“Put out your hand.”
Jack stretched out his worn and calloused hand toward the Devil. The Devil reached out and dropped something into his hand. It was hot. Very hot.
Jack looked down and then up at the Devil. “What’s this?”
“It’s a little piece of hell. Go start your own.” And with that the Devil slammed the gates shut.
Jack turned and slowly walked away. He wasn’t sure where to go and so he just kept walking. The ember was too hot and not getting any cooler. As he passed through Ireland, he picked up a potato and used it to carry his little piece of hell. The potato burned through by the time he reached Russia and so he traded it for a turnip. That too burned through.
It wasn’t until he reached America that he found the perfect vessel for his ember. He picked up a pumpkin and hollowed it out. He cut three holes to let the heat and light out and found he could carry his little piece of hell rather well. And so was born the “Jack-o-Lantern.”
Nothing eases the harsh reality of oncoming winter better than a beautiful fall color display. This wonderful show of dazzling color travels from north to south at the rate of about 40 miles per day. It may last a mere three weeks at any given location.
Although environmental conditions do much to affect the brilliance of fall colors (see “What makes Autumn Leaves Turn Crispy Red” ), generally, any given species of tree often has a characteristic fall color. That said, nothing in nature consistently conforms to rules. A given tree can itself be several colors at once. But in general, most of these deciduous species tend to turn these colors in the fall:
Dogwood, Red Maple, Staghorn Sumac, Poison Sumac, Mountain Ash, Sassafras, Pin Oak, Scarlet Oak, Red Oak, Sweet Gum, Sourwood, Wild Cherry
Yellow Buckeye, Tamarack, Box Elder, Ash, Sugar Maple, Striped Maple, Black Maple, Black Locust, Tree of Heaven, Walnut, Hickory, Redbud, Willow, Tulip Tree, Magnolia, Sassafras, Witch Hazel, Chestnut Oak, Northern White Oak, Sycamore, Sweet Gum, American Chestnut, Wild Cherry, Aspen, Basswood, Mulberry, American Beech ( more like copper color), Ironwood, Hop Hornbeam, Elm, Birch, Alder, Catalpa, Cottonwood, Poplar,
Persimmon, Black Gum,
Not every North American deciduous tree species is of course listed, but I tried to include the most common ones.
If a tree species can be multiple colors, I didn’t choose – I just listed it under each color its leaves may “choose” to turn.
I intentionally didn’t include the color “orange” which is a combination of yellow and red, so pretty much any tree in either category can certainly have elements of orange.
I also didn’t choose to include brown, which some leaves turn – some oaks for instance.
I now invite you – nay challenge you – to go outside and find exceptions to these categories. It’s a great fall family game.
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