Though fall yellow leaves may not get as much ink or attention as those that turn red, orange or purple, they’re certainly gorgeous! In fact, some of fall’s yellow trees are among the most spectacular ambassadors of the season.
But which trees produce yellow leaves in fall? How do you know which trees will turn yellow? Can you use fall color to identify a tree’s species?
We’ll answer these questions and more below.
Fall Yellow Leaves: Which Trees Produce Yellow Leaves in Fall?
While Mother Nature loves thwarting our expectations, producing exceptions and breaking her own rules, many trees produce yellow leaves each autumn. We’ll share some of the trees that almost always produce yellow leaves as well as some of the ones that occasionally produce yellow leaves below.
Just remember that there can (and usually will be) a few exceptions. Also, note that the word “yellow” means different things to different people, and we all perceive colors in slightly different ways.
Some may consider a “gold” leaf to really be “orange.” Some may consider a leaf “pale brown,” while others consider it “ambery yellow.”
We’re not going to get bogged down in subtle distinctions between colors.
If it’s pretty darn close to yellow, we’re calling it yellow.
Trees in Fall That Usually Have Yellow Leaves
The following trees reliably produce yellow leaves.
There are about a dozen species of hickory trees (Carya spp.) in North America (including pecan trees, which are in the same genus), and they all produce very distinct yellow leaves in the fall. With a bit of practice, you can learn to quickly pick out hickory trees amid the forest during the autumn, and it’s often a bit surprising just how many have been lurking in the forest the whole year.
Hickories typically produce some of the most attractive yellow leaves of the season, and they’re likely better described as gold or bronze.
Some Ash Trees
There are between one and two dozen ash tree species in North America, depending on which authority’s arrangement you prefer. Fall color varies between the species, but many produce pale yellow to golden foliage.
One of the most common ashes – the green ash (F. pennsylvanica) – almost always produces yellow leaves in the fall, as do velvet (F. velutina), black (F. nigra), and blue ashes (F. quadrangulata).
These huge, fast-growing pioneer species usually produce rich yellow leaves in the fall. You may spot them along forest edges, but they’re often easiest to spot by looking for yellow-leaved trees rising a bit above the surrounding canopy of oaks and hickories.
Known to biologists as Liriodendron tulipifera, tuliptrees are sometimes called yellow poplars or tulip poplars. But this is a misnomer – they’re not closely related to poplar trees. In fact, they’re members of the magnolia family.
Ginkgo trees (Gingko biloba) aren’t native to the U.S., but we’re including them for two reasons: They’re widely planted ornamentals, so you may see them pretty commonly in some areas, and they’re absolutely stunning in the autumn.
This incredible fall color, combined with their unusual leaf shape and overall growth habit, make gingko trees one of the most spectacular species to observe in the fall.
Though not one of the most jaw-dropping trees in the autumn forest, hop hornbeams (Ostrya virginiana) produce pale yellow to orange leaves in the fall. This species is often confused with the hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), aka the ironwood, but it tends to grow at higher elevations, rather than riparian areas.
Hop hornbeams produce pretty, if not spectacular, yellow leaves, which are often overshadowed by the eye-popping yellows of hickories and some others.
As a group, maples (Acer spp.) are famous for their incredible fall color. However, most of the true rockstars of the group – looking at you, sugar (A. saccharum) and red maples (Acer rubrum) — produce red or orange foliage in the fall.
That’s not the case for striped maples (A. pensylvanicum), which usually produce bright yellow leaves in the autumn. Field maples (A. campestre) and ash-leaf maples (A. negundo) also produce yellow leaves in fall.
While most people think of the stately and evergreen southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) when envisioning magnolia trees, there are several deciduous species in the genus. Few produce fantastic fall foliage, but cucumber (M. acuminata) and sweetbay magnolia (M. virginiana) both produce pale yellow leaves.
The leaves of other deciduous magnolias, such as the incredible bigleaf magnolia (M. macrophylla), typically turn pale brown and quickly fall off the tree.
One of the niftiest trees in the forest, the pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is another species that produces yellowish leaves. Though they’re rarely especially bright yellow or gold, the leaves are still quite attractive, thanks to their respectable size and interesting shape.
Though these trees are capable of reaching 40 feet in height, they’re often much smaller. This helps provide a splash of color to the forest understory during autumn.
A tree that’s already famous for its show-stopping purple spring buds, the eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) bears bright yellow, heart-shaped leaves in the autumn.
Aside from the colors this tree offers at different parts of the year, the eastern redbud also retains its bean pods into the winter, which further increases its visual interest, making it a favorite of homeowners and landscaping professionals.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given their close relationship with hickory trees, black walnuts (Juglans nigra) also bear yellow to gold leaves in the fall. The yellow fall leaf color of these trees is visually appealing in its own right, but the contrast between the yellow color and the trees’ black bark makes them especially striking.
Other black walnut relatives with yellow fall foliage include butternut (J. cinerea) and California walnut trees (J. californica).
Most oak trees go one of two routes in the fall: They either produce brilliant red, purple or maroon leaves, or they bear drab, brown leaves, which won’t inspire you to whip out your camera. But a few – including the chestnut oak (Quercus montana) – do bear fairly bright yellow leaves.
Water oaks (Q. nigra) may also produce yellow leaves at times, though most are simply pale brown.
Most birch trees – including river birches (Betula nigra), yellow birches (B. alleghaniensis), paper birches (B. papyrifera) and others – produce pale yellow leaves in the fall.
Along with their often-distinctive bark and attractive growth habits, their attractive all foliage helps make them popular trees among nature lovers, homeowners, and professional landscapers alike.
Trees in Fall That Occasionally Have Yellow Leaves
In contrast to the leaves above, which almost always produce yellow leaves, the following species produce yellow leaves at times.
- White Oaks: Most white oaks (Quercus alba) bear brilliant red to maroon leaves in the fall, but some individuals are clad in yellow leaves once fall rolls around. Bear oaks (Q. ilicifolia) can also produce yellow leaves, though they’re more commonly red.
- Bigtooth Aspen: Bigtooth aspen (Populus grandidentata) leaves can range from salmon to gold, and they often develop fall color after most of the surrounding trees.
- Sugar Maples: Sugar maples (Acer saccharum) often produce some of the brightest red or orange leaves in the forest once fall rolls around, but occasional individuals do bear yellow or gold leaves.
- Sweetgums: Sweetgums (Liquidambar styraciflua) produce some of the most gorgeous fall colors of any species, with leaves clad in just about any color from purple to gold. Often, individual leaves of these trees will feature several different colors.
- American Beeches: Unlike some of the other trees listed in this section, which may produce yellow leaves, American beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) are pretty consistent in their color-change habits. The issue is whether or not you consider the leaves to be “yellow” or “brown” in the early autumn.
- Sycamores: Sycamores (Platanus occidentalis) are unquestionably attractive trees, which possess mottled, multi-colored bark that’s easy to spot from a distance. But unfortunately, they rarely produce noteworthy fall foliage. Their leaves are often drab brown, and some never change color at all before falling. However, they do occasionally bear yellow leaves in the autumn.
- American Elm: American elms (Ulmus americana) occasionally produce bright golden leaves, though they’re rarely especially striking. Other common elms – including slippery (U. rubra) and winged elms (U. alata) – can also produce yellow leaves in the fall.
- Black Cherry: Common along fence rows and forest edges, black cherry trees (Prunus serotina) generally produce orange to red leaves in the fall, but some individuals will produce yellow leaves instead.
The natural world offers tons of beautiful things to appreciate, including fall’s yellow leaves. So, be sure to get out there and enjoy the hickories, tuliptrees and pawpaws this season! Fall may come around every year, but the fall foliage differs every year.
And this fall only comes around once.
What yellow fall trees are your favorites? Did we miss any that you typically enjoy?
Let us know in the comments below!