Autumn the season of foliage in many hues

For tree-lovers, autumn is perhaps the most beautiful time of the year when foliage changes into a rich mixture of brown, red, yellow, orange and gold.

In comparison to spring, welcomed for its greening of the countryside and the new life it brings, some people find a certain sadness in autumn when leaves begin to fall and wither and winter approaches. But then, spring isn’t too far away either and indeed, with climate change, spring is coming earlier: daffodils were peeping up in late December last year.

Chlorophyll, the colouring substance that turns leaves green, is plentiful in the growing season, but is diminished in the cooler autumn weather and other substances such as those that cause red and brown hues take over. The end result is that leaves die.

Last month, we mentioned blackberries, which are surely over-ripe now. But other wild fruits ripen into October. Sloes can be picked from blackthorn trees and, though quite bitter, can be used for wine-making. Sloes are also useful bird food.

Elderberries have traditionally been harvested for wine and jam-making, while crab apples also have domestic uses and normally ripen in late October or November.

A perfect place to view a lavish range of autumn shades is Killarney National Park — a massive wooded landscape, boasting some of Ireland’s oldest, native oak and yew woodlands, remnants of ancient forests. Out-of-control rhododendron is a serious impediment to the growth of young trees, however.

According to botanist Daniel Kelly, who has extensively studied these woodlands, almost all of the different types of Irish woodland are represented in a few square kilometres of the park, including the rare arbutus.

“The Killarney woods are complex, diverse and in many ways unique. Each wood has a different history, and the effects of these differences on the flora and fauna have yet to be adequately explored. The Killarney woods continue to pose a host of unanswered questions,” he wrote in the book, Killarney National Park: — A Place to Treasure.

Unsurprisingly, woods feature on the 2017 series of autumn talks in Killarney National Park, being held for the first time in the recently-opened Killarney House. Expert Michael McGarry will speak on the subject, Proactive Tree Management, on November 2.

The series kicks off on Thursday, October 5, with award-winning photographer Valerie O’Sullivan using some of her archive to illustrate the people and places of Co Kerry. All talks are on Thursdays (8pm), admission is free and other subjects include deer, the history of rowing on the lakes, and the Innisfallen crozier. The final talk, on November 9, has Dr Allan Mee speaking on the project to reintroduce white-tailed sea eagles to Ireland.

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