I have three apple trees down in my orchard. They are fifty years old and have grown wild and gnarly through decades of neglect. Most of the heavy branches are covered with sprouts that mesh together into a dense, continuous crown. The trees are covered with blossoms in the spring and hundreds of tiny apples set from the flowers. The energy of the tree is dispersed out to all of these forming apples so very few of them ever grow very large. Many of them, in fact, drop to the ground before they are ripe. The apples are knobby and riddled with insect larvae, but there are many consumers for these hard, green fruits. Woodchucks, gray squirrels, blue jays, and crows all take an apple here and there, but it’s the deer that really utilize this “sign of fall” food resource.
Our summer deer herd loves these apples. The five of them (3 doe and 2 fawns) come to the orchard on a regular schedule (early morning, mid-afternoon, and at dusk) to feast on the fresh fall. Often at other, odd times during the day, one of the fawns very uncharacteristically comes out of the woods all by herself to snack on the fallen fruit. The deer chew each apple quite thoughtfully and thoroughly and jump when new fruit falls near them. The fawns in particular make great faces as they chew the green, sour apples.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeT2_B0IBS4?rel=0The fawns themselves are another sign of fall. They have grown tall and sturdy over the summer. My garden plants have fed them well! They are starting to lose their white spotted, red-brown coats and are slowly transitioning into the gray-brown colors of the adult. Their fading spots tell the story of the passing summer season.
The intense greens of the summer are starting to fade, too. The leaflets on the locust trees out back are brown, and the leaves of the nearby crab apple trees are almost fifty percent yellow. The cherry trees have yellow leaves which are starting to accumulate on the ground beneath the trees. Photosynthesis has stopped in these trees and their accessory pigments (the “anthocyanins”) are beginning to show through the fading chlorophylls. The oaks and maples are all still bright green, though, and will make use of the remaining weeks before frost to make and store the sugars for next year’s leaves.
Goldenrod is blooming. Old fields, ditches, and roadsides are glowing with its bright yellow flowers. The other weeds around them are holding their greens, but they will start to fade and turn brown very soon. The English call goldenrod “summer’s end.” It is interesting that the first flowers in the spring and the last flowers of the summer are all yellow. There is such a diversity of colors in between!