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Autumn plants
Here we look at top five plants to look out for in autumn and the qualities they have that make them stand out at this time of year.

Autumn is many people's favourite season. Whilst spring is great at heralding new growth and change in its tight buds and zesty greens, autumn can be the most vividly vibrant yet unassuming season of them all.

  • Time for a change and letting go: Autumn carries with it strong metaphors for letting go and moving on from what may have been a difficult or challenging period in some people’s lives. It can remind us that as in nature, we need time to rest and recuperate from the trials and tribulations around us, both mentally and physically, as time moves on.
  • Kicking through leaves can improve your mood: Many leaves contain oils that when disturbed can be partially released. These oils can release endorphins in us, which can help calm and stimulate positivity.
  • Great for compost material: Autumn is the time to fill up your compost bins with generous amounts of compostable material. Should you find your compost bins overfilling or perhaps you don’t have access to a compost bin, you can always fill bin bags with leaves, cut some holes in to help aerate and then leave them behind your shed to rot down over a year. It’s advisable to avoid plane tree leaves though as they can take longer to decompose.
  • Enjoying that low light: On a crisp autumn day, the ultraviolet rays of the sun also act to boost your vitamin D and endorphin levels with a lower risk of sunburn.
  • Searching for conkers: It’s not only leaves that are falling but conkers too. The less risk averse of you can pickle or roast them before conker fights. If you want to play it safer, you can tie them onto a length of string or decorate your mantelpiece with the most eye-catching ones.
  • Keeping leaves: You can go out for walks and see how many shades of colour there are. It should be fairly easy to find more range in colour than the ‘oranges and browns’ that most children initially expect to find.
  • Kicking and burying themselves in leaves: Many of us have fond memories of doing this as a child. You can also spell out messages on the ground with the leaves and take a photo.
  • Allow kids to get to know the trees around them: This is a great time to allow kids to recognise plants from their leaves. You can also test them to see how they would recognise a particular tree or shrub once its leaves have gone by feeling its bark, observing its buds or noticing its size.

Maidenhair tree (Gingko biloba)

Maidenhair tree autumn

This Chinese tree existed 350 million years ago, making it one of our oldest trees. It gained its name ‘Maidenhair’ due to its leaves being similar to those found on the maidenhair fern.

Whilst it may not provide the longest autumnal show, when the leaves do turn, their fiery golden colour is hard to miss.

Gingko extract taken from their leaves has shown in studies to be able to reduce inflammation and improve blood flow around the body. The female tree will also produce fruits that also having medicinal properties, despite their less pleasant smell. These trees can often be found in cities as they are resistant to pollution as well as pests and diseases.

Sweet Gum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua)

Sweet gum autumn

The Liquidambar is named as such because of the sweet gum or resin the tree produces from its bark.

Its palmate (hand-like) leaves in autumn are stunning and well worth paying attention to when outdoors in parks and gardens. The tree also has the advantage of having varieties that can grow to a modest size which make them reasonable choices for your own garden. They also produce flowers in summer that draw in bees and other pollinators.

Persian Ironwood tree (Parrotia persica)

Ironwood autumn

The main point of autumn interest in the Parrotia persica is that its leaves change colour much in the same way as traffic lights do. Starting with green, they then turn yellow and red, crimson and deep purple. On some leaves you can observe these distinct colours all at the same time. It can also show small clustered red flowers at the beginning of spring.

It gained its name ‘ironwood tree’ due to the fact that its wood is incredibly dense. Rumour has it that it was used in machinery production during the industrial revolution.

Chinese Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus henryana)

Creeper autumn

Not all the plants in the list are trees and here we look at a climber that could add some autumn colour climbing a pergola in your own garden. Native to China, this deciduous creeper gives a delightfully resonant show of reds and purples. It also produces complimentary dark blue berries during September and October.

Growing to a height of 9 meters, it is less vigorous than other creepers so may well be a plant that adorns the back wall of your garden displaying soft green leaves with silvery white veins outside of autumn.

Beauty berry (Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii - ‘Profusion’)

Beauty berry autumn

Following on from the stunning berries seen on the Parthenocissus, it makes sense to also look at the Callicarpa bodinieri or the 'beauty berry' to give it its common name. These dynamically purple berries appear towards the end of autumn and remain on the stems when the leaves have fallen, drawing more focus to their vibrant colour.

Best planted in groups to ensure pollination occurs, these shrubs grow to around 3 metres tall and are therefore suitable for a border or can be placed in planters.

Historically, they were used for medicinal purposes by native Americans using them to alleviate symptoms of rheumatism and colic. Farmers apparently would also rub themselves as well as their horses with the leaves as they would ward off mosquitos.

So, as the nights begin to draw in and frosty evenings become an approaching reality, make time to go outside and enjoy what autumn has to offer. Whether it's in the myriad of spiderwebs on display or the finer structures noticeable on spent seed heads, nature still has an abundance of spectacles to appreciate at this time of year.

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