By Nora Wildberg, John J. Willaman & Martha Haas Valentine Curatorial Intern

As we all prepare for colder months, many of our plants are doing the same: dropping their leaves, slowing glucose production, and storing excess food in their root systems. Some plants in our gardens are still displaying vibrant fall color, and others have even begun to bloom. I hope you enjoy stumbling upon these plants at the Arboretum and discovering new ones along the way.

 

False holly (Osmanthus heterophyllus)

 

  

False holly
Osmanthus heterophyllus

Native to Japan and Taiwan, this large evergreen shrub has now opened its tiny white flowers that emit an inviting fragrance right outside the Widener Visitor Center and in other areas of the Arboretum. Osmanthus can be distinguished from true hollies by their opposite leaf arrangement, while true holly, Ilex, have leaves that are alternately arranged. Clusters of these small, tubular flowers form in leaf axes, where the leaf meets the twig. Take note of the different leaf shapes that occur on the same shrub. Younger leaves have sharp spines along the leaf margin, but as the leaves mature they become spineless and smooth.  

 

 

 

 

 

Stiff dogwood (Cornus foemina) 

 

Stiff dogwood
Cornus foemina

Near the bridge by the Swan Pond are several of these dogwoods that are now bearing their distinctive, showy blue fruit. Ranging from a light to dark blue, the fruit grow in clusters on bright red stems that really stand out against the foliage. Although these fruits look like berries, they are in fact drupes, with one hard seed rather than many seeds within a fleshy fruit—think of this dogwood’s fruit as more akin to a cherry or an apricot rather than a blueberry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) 

  

American witchhazel
Hamamelis virginiana

Bright yellow pom-pom-like blooms decorate these small, wide-spreading, native trees. The inflorescences are composed of several flowers clustered together, each with four distinctive ribbon-like petals. In its native range of eastern North America, you can find these in wooded areas as an understory tree or by stream banks. Walk to the Swan Pond and notice our beautiful American witchhazel shrubs along the stream that are covered in these yellow blooms. There are plenty of others located in the gardens, and if you do find some, be sure to get close—you may even catch a hint of its sweet, subtle fragrance.

 

 

 

 

 

 Katsura-tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) 

 

Katsura-tree
Cercidiphyllum japonicum

Our beloved state champion katsura-tree is now boasting one of its many seasonal interests: a strong fragrance that many describe as smelling like cotton-candy or caramel. As its light green, heart-shaped leaves turn yellow and fall to the ground, they release maltol, a chemical often used as a flavor enhancer in soda, candy, desserts, and even in cosmetic and pharmaceutical products. We also have a weeping variety of the katsura-tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Morioka Weeping,’ in the Sculpture Garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maidenhair-tree (Ginkgo biloba)

 

 

Maidenhair-tree
Ginkgo biloba

One of the original plantings on the Morris property, our spectacular maidenhair-tree is beginning to display some early signs of its golden fall color. Ginkgo biloba is the only living species in the order Ginkgoales, and fossil evidence of a similar plant dates to around 270 million years ago in the Permian era. Native to China, these non-flowering living fossils are considered gymnosperms, which literally translates to “naked seed” in Greek. Unlike angiosperms, flowering plants, ginkgo seeds are not encased in an ovary and therefore technically not considered fruit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spicebush (Lindera salicifolia)

 

 

Spicebush
Lindera salicifolia

Lining the edge of the Long Fountain are these large shrubs with showy tan foliage. Although their vibrant display of fall color has recently passed, they maintain interest in the colder months with their spent leaves that hang on during the winter. Spicebush gets its name from the spicy aroma of their leaves when crushed. Earlier this year, these shrubs were cut back to around 12 inches, so all of the growth you see here occurred in only one growing season!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lionel Fortescue mahonia (Mahonia x media Lionel Fortescue)

 

 

Lionel Fortescue mahonia
Mahonia x media ‘Lionel Fortescue’

In the shade of our beautiful Japanese raisin tree above the Orange Balustrade are the bright yellow flowers of this mahonia cultivar. Blooming in late fall and into early winter, these small, fragrant flowers emerge along the many racemes at the top of these tall shrubs, protruding above its spiny, evergreen leaves. In the summer, mahonia bears clusters of deep purple fruit that explain its other common name: grape holly. A hybrid of Mahonia japonica and Mahonia lomariifolia, this particular cultivar is a prolific bloomer and was selected for its fragrance and early bloom time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nora Wildberg received her bachelor’s degree in Art and Archaeology from Princeton University in 2021, focusing her studies on museology. Having previously worked with an ancient coin collection, she now works directly with the Morris Arboretum’s living collection assisting in the preservation and record-keeping of our woody plants. In recent years, she developed a passion for plants and nature, and in her free time, she enjoys birdwatching, painting, hiking, and looking at art.