|Paddlers admire a bit of fall color on the banks of Bayou Lacombe in late November 2015|
Scenes of fall color such as this, a solitary tree or two, their leaves aflame with the bright colors of fall, are not uncommon in southeast Louisiana. But sometimes it is a surprise to see them. Colorful fall displays of bright reds, oranges and yellow leaves are more commonly associated with colder climates and rolling hills than with warm and flat southeast Louisiana. Here, most deciduous trees--those trees that lose their leaves at the end of the growing season--produce leaves that just turn brown and fall.
The balmy late November day the paddlers were on Bayou Lacombe revealed a smattering of colorful exceptions. The group launched at the Main St. boat launch in "downtown" Lacombe and were about a mile and a half upstream, at the edge of the Big Branch Marsh NWR when red and yellow leaves were was first noticed floating on the surface of the dark stream.
"The red leaves were most probably from the red maples, one of the few native trees to produce the bright red you saw," refuge manager Daniel Breaux said later in a telephone interview. "Or they could have come from the Chinese Tallow tree, an invasive tree species with leaves that turn red or yellow this time of year."
The soil determines where a tree grows. The torpid bayou is flanked mostly by pine flat woods; sandy soil, well drained and elevated, a favorite soil for growing pine trees. But deciduous trees prefer a more moist soil to grow in. This is why fall color in the trees in southeast Louisiana is most likely to be found in swampy wetlands, bottomland hardwood forests and near the banks of streams and bayous such as Bayou Lacombe.
Other trees along the Gulf Coast also signal the season is changing. The star-shaped sweetgum leaf can turn red or yellow in autumn. The American elm, a tree that can grow as tall as a ten-story building. can produce bright yellow leaves in autumn.
The American Holly is often seen in northshore forests. Its bright green leaves and deep red berries are popular additions to holiday decorations and table centerpieces.
Evergreen trees have green leaves year around, hence the name "evergreen". Most evergreens here are pines, their leaves are needle shaped. But a few evergreen trees here have broad flat leaves which stay green through the fall and winter. Live oak trees and southern magnolia trees are two of the best known examples of broadleaf evergreens down South.
The opposite is also true. Baldcypress trees have needle leaves but the tree is not an evergreen; each fall their needles turn a rust color and drop leaving the baldcypress branches bare. A pine tree with brown needles is thought to be dying and it probably is. But a baldcypress, its branches covered with brown needles that are soon to be shed leaving bare branches is just going through its life cycle and will grow new bright green needles in spring.
Fountainebleau State Park Nature Trail Guide, revised by Rita McMurray, park naturalist, Fountainebleau State Park, Mandeville, LA., 12/99.
Rent a kayak from Bayou Adventure, 985-882-2908, to explore the bayou yourself. The business, which also caters to fishermen, will deliver and pick up your rented kayak from the Main St. launch for no additional charge.
While paddling the bayou, take time to come ashore at the headquarters facility for the Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuges Complex. From the 110 acre site, eight refuges in southeast Louisiana are managed. There is also a visitor center in a building that was once a chapel. Inside is a wonderful museum with dioramas and interactive displays. There is a gift shop too. Paddle about a mile and a half upstream of the Main St. launch, look on river left for a mowed lawn sloping down to a narrow sand beach and dock. Beach is hidden by hardwood hammocks so poke around to find it. There is no sign. Walk up the rise and continue past the law enforcement office about a quarter of a mile on a blacktop road to the visitor center. Volunteers operate the museum and gift shop so call 985-882-2000 for hours and days of operation.