5 Trees with Vibrant Fall Leaves

Chuck Shouse
Written by Chuck Shouse
Updated October 14, 2015
fall trees at Eagle Creek Park
Many people visit Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis every year to take in the fabulous fall foliage. (Photo by Eldon Lindsay)

You won’t want to miss this year’s grand finale of beautiful fall foliage.

Right now, trees across the country are putting on their best performance to show off spectacular fall colors. Whether planting one in your own backyard or just enjoying them on a scenic hike, get to know these colorful trees. Out of the hundreds of species that provide amazing fall color, these five produce some of the most stunning transformations.

RELATED: Plant Trees in the Fall

1. Sugar maple

sugar maple tree
More states have claimed the sugar maple as their state tree than any other single tree species. (Photo courtesy of The Davey Tree Expert Company)

Style, grace and dignity — the sugar maple has it all. The iconic leaves of the sugar maple top our list for the best fall foliage. Though this tree is loved for its maple sugar sap, it also produces a brilliant look at the end of the season. Its autumn foliage morphs from gold, yellow and fiery orange to an unmatched deep red.

Sugar maples are an exceptional tree, whether planted in your backyard or growing in the wild. Native to the eastern and midwestern U.S., sugar maples grow almost anywhere in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 through 10.  

2. Red maple

red maple leaf
Red maples have fall colors that vary from bright yellow to burgundy. (Photo courtesy of The Davey Tree Expert Company)

The red maple is known for adding just the right amount of rosy color to the landscape each season — tiny winter buds, beautiful spring flowers, leafstalks in summer and intense foliage in autumn.

But don’t let its name fool you. Red maples have fall colors that vary from bright yellow to burgundy.

These ongoing colors, combined with the red maple's relatively fast growth and tolerance of soils, makes it a North American favorite.

You’ll find red maples throughout USDA zones 3 through 9. 

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3. Sassafras

sassafras tree
While root beer made from sassafras roots is delightful, the tree’s fall color is equally enchanting. (Photo by Eldon Lindsay)

Sassafras leaves display beautiful reds, purples, yellows and oranges. As a bonus, sassafras is beloved for its sweet smell and red-stemmed, dark blue berries that attract birds.

To identify sassafras, look for three different shaped leaves on one tree – a mitten, a three-lobed leaf and an oval leaf. Hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9, this medium–to-fast growing tree is native to North America.

4. Japanese maple

Japanese maple leaf
Japanese maple tree leaves have five to seven lobes. (Photo courtesy of The Davey Tree Expert Company)

Both elegant and versatile, Japanese maple trees are true chameleons. Some go from intense red in spring to green in summer, and welcome fall with yellow and orange. Others start red and stay red throughout the fall.

Leaves can be palm-shaped or lacy. Japanese maples grow best in USDA zones 6 through 8, but can be hardy as far north as zone 4b. 

5. Black gum tree

black gum tree
Bees love this tree for its late spring blooms. (Photo by Eldon Lindsay)

The black gum tree, or black tupelo as it’s sometimes known, is a standout star of autumn. You’ll find varying hues of yellow, orange and bright red often on the same branch.

Its interesting bark, which resembles alligator hide, also makes this tree an exceptional choice for fall. These trees grow to a height of 30 to 50 feet tall.

Find black gum trees in USDA zones 4 through 9.

Healthy, well cared for trees showcase the most glorious leaf colors. To promote your trees’ ability to offer their best fall color, talk to a certified arborist.

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