Hue Dunnit?

Story and photography by Kay Bjork

The great Northwestern Montana fall palette is vast and beautiful. But which trees turn which colors?

Aspen
Usually found in moist areas. The grayish-green tree has coin-like leaves that famously quiver because of their long flat stems.

Paper Birch
This pretty tree has a short but illustrious life with its paper-like bark and leaves that turn bright yellow in the fall.

Cottonwood
Frequently found in valley bottoms along creeks and rivers. The grayish bark becomes deeply furrowed in older trees, which can grow to 6 feet in diameter. Leaves turn yellow in the fall.

Western Larch
It looks like an evergreen, but the larch tree (also known as tamarack) is unlike other conifer trees because it loses its needles in the fall. The soft inch-long needles lie in clusters on spur shoots, turning golden before they shed and carpet the forest floor.

Huckleberry bush
These shrubs are often found trailside and bear red to purplish-blue berries in August. They are not done showing off until the snow falls as they light up slopes with their bright red leaves in the fall.

Sitka Mountain Ash
This shrub has clusters of red-orange berries that provide food for wildlife and has lance-shaped leaves that turn bright orange in the fall.

Vine maple
This hardy bush does well beneath evergreens and is fast-growing to heights of 10-12 feet and widths of 20 feet. Leaves are a colorful addition to evergreen forests, as they turn red in the fall.

Fireweed
Fireweed earned its name because it’s one of the first plants to emerge after a fire. The purple or pink blossoms grow on a tall spiky stalk that is usually 4-6 feet but can tower to as high as 9 feet. In the fall, the long narrow leaves turn a brilliant red that is reminiscent of the fire that preceded this prolific plant.

Nootka rose
The pink flowers fade and are replaced with orange-red rose hips that are high in vitamin C and enjoyed by humans and wildlife.

Red-osier Dogwood
The red-twigged plant is often found on shoreline areas. The leaves also turn red in the fall, accented by whitish berries that provide food for birds, bears and other wildlife.