Fall color is in full swing at Litha Park in Ashland. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]

Fall hurrah

ASHLAND — Tucked into a corner of Lithia Park stands a silverleaf magnolia tree with leaves so big that one would leave Eve dressed modestly.

"Look at the size of these leaves," says Tom Foster, Lithia's resident tour guide. "They look like big, old paper towels."

Dozens of these leaves now rim the park's lower duck pond, but some still wave like flags in the morning breeze from one of these deciduous trees that make Lithia's 103 acres shine in late fall.

November means the colossal fall color show is in its swan song for the year in Southern Oregon, but nature's pastel palette remains on display — and right now there's no place better than Ashland's signature space.

From the eye-popping red maples to the grand yellows near the fountain to big-leaf maples hanging like curtains around the Feast of Will Lawn, the park's deciduous trees have put on quite a display this year and are in their last act for the season.

"It's been a great fall color year, but a lot of it's on the ground now," says Foster, 87, who has given Lithia Park nature tours the past 29 summers. "But there's still some left."

Most seasons the massive conifers command attention, from the old-growth Douglas fir and Ponderosa pines lining Ashland Creek to the redwood and giant sequoia holding court overlooking the park's band shell.

But the deciduous trees take over in the fall, when their spectacular colors overtake the viewscape.

The park's dominant leaf-droppers are its wide variety of maples, while Oregon ash and white alder dominate the creek banks throughout the park's upper areas.

"We have quite a variety of maples," Foster says on a lunchtime stroll through the park this week. "We're very fortunate."

Not so much for the sawtooth zelkova standing in the middle of the playground. It's already bare.

But an Oliver maple is still holding its own leaves splashed in reds and greens, as is a trident maple a few yards away. Nearby, a striped maple is still as green as the large bark stripes that give this tree its name.

Loose leaves cascade down Ashland Creek and shroud the lower duck pond and cloak hacky-sack grass.

And horseshoe chestnuts rising up near the pickleball courts are still a bit stingy with their color.

But don't expect the show to last much past this weekend.

Incoming rain and winds should pepper the park and separate trees from their leaves.

"It's been a good year for colors in part because the weather's been pretty stable and it's not freezing at night," says Kristi Mergenthaler, a botanist with the Oregon Chapter of the Native Plant Society. "Usually we have some miserable weather by now.

"And when we do, it's pretty much over," she says.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtfribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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