Get your tickets now for the 19th Annual Sourland Mountain Festival, on July 13th, before they're gone!

When was the last time that you heard someone say “I love to walk in nature preserves in autumn because the poison ivy is so beautiful.”  You could substitute many other things for “poison ivy” in that sentence—try “foxtail grass,” “dogbane seed pods,” or “swamp mallow seed heads” and the answer to that question is still “never.” In autumn people are focused on the splendor of tree leaves turning red, yellow, or orange. They probably also enjoy the goldenrod and asters growing alongside country roads. Shrubs get some attention; spicebush leaves turn a buttery yellow, offsetting their red berries. Sumac leaves turn early and they are spectacular. The viburnums produce beautiful and enticing fruits. But the trees steal the autumnal glory.

I would like to propose that there are a number of plant parts that are usually overlooked but deserve our attention. Ten of them are shown below.

Poison ivy is still potent but it is beautiful in October. Its seeds are encased in a nutritious fruit that helps migrating birds.

Did a Canada goose drop a golden egg amongst some maple leaves? No this is a black walnut. Walnut leaves are divided into 12 to 16 leaflets that turn yellow but are difficult to pick out when they fall from the tree.

When the seed heads of foxtail grass are backlit they glow like gold.

Every milkweed seed is attached to a silken parachute. Even the dried pods are attractive.

Dogbane is a relative of milkweed, with the same lovely silken parachute for the seeds but a less interesting pod.

The seeds of musclewood trees are formed in a pagoda-like structure.

Ironwood seed heads are soft and fuzzy. I am often tempted to pat them as I pass.

Thistle seed heads are messy, but each seed is a star.

Blackberry is great in two seasons. In summer, its fruit is both lovely and delicious. In autumn, its leaves are lovely and delicious to insects.

Swamp mallow has huge, beautiful flowers that light up wet areas. In autumn, the flowers are gone but the seed head looks like it was designed by an Art Nouveau artist.

By Jim Amon.