CO-Horts Blog

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Native Shrubs for Fall Color

Yvette Henson, CSU Extension, San Miguel Basin

We all love the golds and oranges of our native aspen and cottonwood trees and we take annual drives into the mountains in late September and October to see them in their glory.  But, we don’t give as much attention to other native shrubs that also have good fall color.

In Colorado, western Colorado at least, our scrub oaks (Quercus gambelii) are a major contributor to our fall color and the hillsides look like Oriental carpets of burnt ochre, sienna, rust and chartreuse.  Some other native shrubs that add to the color palette are the burgundy leaves and stems of red twig dogwoods and gilded willows growing along riverbanks, the rusty reds and oranges of three leaved sumacs and wild roses on the hillsides and roadsides.

Red-twig dogwoods, Cornus sericea, is popular in the landscape industry because of its colorful red or yellow branches make a show in the winter, especially against the snow.  Burgundy fall color is a beautiful contrast under native cottonwoods, along rivers.  In this photo, native virgin’s bower, Clematis ligusticifolia, is growing over it. 

I enjoy our native willows (Salix spp.) most in the late winter/early spring when the sap begins to flow and the stems are the most colorful.  I wish I could paint them.  They are in the Salicaceae family, like aspens and cottonwoods and have similar fall color.

Three-leaved sumac, Rhus trilobata, is also a favorite fall shrub for its varied rusty-red to chartreuse colored foliage.  In the early summer it produces salty-sour fruit that is good for making a lemonade like beverage.  In extreme western Colorado, there is a variety with simple, rather than compound leaves.

Wild roses (Rosa spp.) have similar fall color to three-leaved sumacs and also have colorful red hips that are high in vitamin C and are great for tea and homemade beauty products.

There are more native shrubs that add to our colorful fall, such as barberries (Berberis spp.), currants (Ribes spp.), sometimes snowberries (Symphoriocarpus spp.) and serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.).  Comment on others.


  1. Great article, love the pictures!

  2. I was also pleasantly surprised by my 2 year old western sand cherries (prunus besseyi). They have turned a medium reddish color. Thanks for the good info!

  3. Thank you for the photos and info!