Mother Nature puts on quite the firework display in fall, with colorful leaves adorning the trees. These leaves come in shades ranging from yellow to purple, but it is the red ones that are often most eye-catching. And this leads many nature lovers to wonder what trees have red leaves in fall.
The answer is, it’s complicated – some tree species reliably produce red leaves, while others may only do so in some years. Still others will produce red leaves while growing in some habitats but not others.
We’ll fill you in on everything you need to know below.
Trees with Red Leaves in Fall: What Trees Have Red Leaves in Fall?
We’ll share some of the trees that produce red leaves in the fall below. Just note that red, orange and purple fall foliage often differs from season to season, based on the late summer and early fall weather. So, don’t be surprised if some of these trees produce red leaves one year, yet fail to do so the next.
Also, keep in mind that color is often in the eye of the beholder, and there aren’t really objective criteria separating different shades of “red.” So, we’re not going to spend a lot of time distinguishing between, say, dark orange and red. Nor are we going to draw a sharp line between maroon or magenta and red.
If we think “red” when we see the leaf, we’re gonna call it red.
Black Gum Tree
Black gum trees (Nyssa sylvatica) are one of the stars of autumn. They occasionally produce purple, yellow, or orange leaves, but they usually bear bright red leaves in the autumn. As a bonus, the bright red leaves often contrast sharply with the trees’ deep blue fruit. Some hypothesize that this is an adaptation that makes the fruit more visible to seed-dispersing birds.
In many parts of their range, black gum trees are some of the first species to begin the color change process. You may even notice a few individual branches changing colors in the late summer.
In terms of fall foliage, sourwood trees (Oxydendrum arboretum) are similar to black gums in a few ways. For starters, they also produce incredible fall color; their leaves are among the most eye-popping in the entire forest. Additionally, they also exhibit striking contrast at times, this time involving the pale white or tan fruit capsules, which contrast with the tree’s bright red leaves.
If you aren’t sure how to spot a sourwood yet, look for trees with strongly leaning trunks. Though some sourwoods do grow more-or-less straight up, the majority exhibit a leaning growth habit.
White Oak Tree
White oak tree (Quercus alba) leaves may turn a variety of colors in the fall, ranging from yellow to deep purple. But oftentimes, their leaves are deep, dark red. Because white oak trees often have beautiful form and large individuals typically bear attractive bark, they can be some of the most attractive species in the fall.
The white oak species is somewhat unusual among members of the white oak section (a group of about 500 species within the genus Quercus) in that it often produces reddish leaves in the fall. Most other members of the group produce leaves in the gold-to-brown part of the color spectrum.
Northern Red Oak Tree
Leaves of the northern red oak tree (Quercus rubra) are almost always some shade of red, ranging from bright, orangish-red to maroon. Many of the other “red oaks,” including the southern red oak (Q. falcata) and some willow oaks (Q. phellos) also exhibit red color, though they rarely match the intensity of the northern red oak.
Scarlet oaks (Q. coccinea), however, produce red color that rivals, and sometimes surpasses, the color of northern red oak leaves in the fall.
Sugar Maple Tree
The tree responsible for what is likely the most famous fall color, sugar maples (Acer saccharum) can produce leaves of several different colors. However, they’re often a bright, otherworldly red that stands out amid the forest.
For the unfamiliar, sugar maple leaves are very easy to identify: Simply think of the Canadian flag. The leaf adorning it is a stylized version of the leaf. Red maples (A. rubrum), as their name implies, also produce red leaves in fall, though occasional specimens may bear yellow or orange leaves instead.
White Ash Tree
While green (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) and blue ash trees (F. quadrangulata) often produce yellow leaves, white ash tree leaves (F. americana) are often somewhere between orange and deep red. That said, some white ash trees do produce yellowish leaves, like their relatives.
In some cases, the red color of the fall white ash leaves contrasts with the pale grey bark, which is quite beautiful.
Staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina), along with their close cousins the smooth (R. glabra) and winged sumacs (R. copallinum), bear very attractive red leaves in the fall. In fact, the winged sumac is occasionally called the flameleaf sumac in reference to its incredible fall color.
This leaf color, combined with the unusual growth habit of all three species; their long, pinnately compound leaves; and the interesting upright fruit clusters they bear, make for a very interesting tree to encounter.
Many sumacs grow along roadsides and forest edges, as they require relatively intense sunlight and thrive in areas with dry soil. Accordingly, a fall hike or drive can often be quite a visual treat.
Sweetgums (Liquidambar styraciflua) can produce leaves of just about any color imaginable, but many of them are in fact red. Or, better said, parts of their leaves are often red; sweetgum leaves are often multi-colored masterpieces, which are quite beautiful to behold.
When combined with their often-immense size, the colorful fall foliage of sweetgum trees makes them one of the season’s true showstoppers.
The flowering dogwood (Cornus floridana) is one of the most delightful denizens of the forest understory, thanks in large part to its combination of beautiful white flowers, attractive growth habit and bright red fruit. But this tree offers additional visual appeal in the autumn, as its leaves become a deep red – occasionally venturing into maroon or purple territory.
Some other dogwoods – including the grey (C. racemosa) and alternate leaf dogwoods (C. alternifolia) – also produce reddish leaves, though they are rarely as red as those of the flowering dogwood.
Red autumn foliage is certainly one of the best reasons to get out and hike during the fall, but you can also enjoy many of these species by simply looking around while driving or sitting on your front porch. In fact, some of the trees that produce the best fall color – looking at you, black gums – are often planted in residential areas.
Which of the red fall trees above is your favorite? Are there any we missed?
Let us know in the comments below!