The Gold of Late October: Tamaracks and Aspen

Now that the end of October is here, the leaves are bare on the mountains in and around Pinkham Notch. Maple, Birch, and Beech leafs have fallen and the forest has a bare look to it below the higher slopes of evergreen spruces and firs. But not all is lost, for the last days of October feature one last gasp of brilliant foliage thanks to two late turning trees. The aspens of young deciduous forests, both the Big Toothed and Quaking Aspen species, and the Tamaracks of lower elevation cold wetlands and bogs. The brilliant yellows that occur in irregular patches on the mountainsides right now are the work of aspens, the same ones that make the Rockies so photogenic in the fall. Our other yellow turning hardwood trees, the more abundant birches, have long since dropped there leaves. Aspens are a sun loving species that are particularly abundant in recently logged forests. Nice small stands of brilliant colored aspens can be seen near the Wildcat Mountain Ski area right now, just north of Pinkham Notch.

Golden colored Tamarack trees in the distance (10/25)
Cherry Pond early in the morning  (10/25)
Tamarack Tree and blue skies (10/25)

My personal favorite bit of color at the end of October though comes in the wetlands and bogs that surround the mountains. The tamarack (Larix laricina), also known as larch, is a circum-boreal tree that grows in the higher latitudes of the globe. It is our only deciduous conifer tree. The tamarack turns a gold color before it drops its needles every fall, just like our hardwood species of trees. It grows well in wet soils and fills the wetlands of the North Country with brilliant golds starting around the third week of October most years. Sometimes the color lingers even into the first week of November. Walking through a North Country wetland on a frosty and sunny morning when the sky is blue and the tamaracks are gold is something to be experienced! Even better in a canoe if you don't mind the cold.
Some good places to view tamaracks in the White Mountain Region include the Pondicherry National Wildlife Refuge at Cherry Pond and on the Zealand Trail in the vicinity of the Zealand Ponds, just below AMC's Zealand Falls Hut. Enjoy this last gasp of color!
Text & Photos by Matt Maloney
AMC Pinkham Notch Naturalist Guide