Wintergreen Drive Fall Foliage Guide
by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator
I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. I hope you enjoy!
Leaf peeper season is officially upon us. Traffic on the Blue Ridge Parkway is picking up as the foliage at the higher elevations is changing rapidly. Wintergreen is blessed with a roadway that through a bit of planning and a bit of biology highlight the best fall color our forest can muster. This edition of the Nine Minute Naturalist will focus on types of trees at precise distances that require your attention.
The mileage for this info begins at the bottom of Wintergreen Drive and ends at our Nature Center atop Wintergreen Drive.
0.0 miles: Just up from the beginning of Wintergreen Drive, you are greeted by the always showy red maples on your left. This tree is found in the swamps of Allen Creek all the way to the top of Devils Knob, offering brilliant reds wherever it is found.
0.4 miles: The sourwood on the right side of the road requires attention. This hardwood, much more common further south than Wintergreen, has brilliant red to pink fall foliage that stands out amongst the fall forest. Planted along Wintergreen Drive from the gatehouse to Fortunes Ridge, sourwood demands attention with its outstanding foliage.
0.9 miles: Two species lining the left side that may have the greatest peak colors of any woody plants at Wintergreen. They are sumac and sassafras. This stretch of road features both species that take advantage of the increase light along roadways. They both offer a color palate of green, yellow, orange, and red that exemplify the fall foliage in the Blue Ridge.
1.4 miles: The road was cut from a steep hill at this point and black birch was the opportunistic tree that filled this light gap. The left side of the road features their impressive bright yellow leaves that even standout when they hit the ground, making a carpet of gold.
1.7 miles: Just after the big curve near Fortunes Ridge, a couple black gum trees make their presence known offering lovely foliage to the changing forest. Finding their lovely red leaves amongst a forest of green makes this tree a true standout.
1.9 miles: A landowner on the left side of the road has planted the invasive shrub burning bush, known for its bright red fall foliage. While the foliage deserves our attention, I feel it is my duty to also explain this plant is highly invasive and should not be planted.
2.2 miles: Hickories dominate this mileage on both the left and right side. At times each fall, this portion of Wintergreen Drive is almost hazardously bright yellow. The light streaming through the magnificent yellow hurt the eyes it can be so brilliant.
2.6 miles: The parking lot of the Mt. Inn features two trees that currently stand out. The orange and yellow sugar maple and the green and red white oak draw the eye as you approach the Mt. Inn.
2.7 miles: Alleghany blackberry is the only non-tree on our list. Glance to the right side of the road after the Mt. Inn and you will see a patch of thorny blackberries that turn a vibrant red before dropping their leaves for the winter.
3.5 miles: As you enter the Nature Center parking lot, a colorful white oak, and a vibrant sourwood line your path. They highlight how landscaping (the sourwood is planted) and the natural environment can work to together to provide immense color.
Driving is often a habitual act. Do not let your time driving up and down our mountain go to waste this autumn. Pay attention to the large amount of unique foliage we have in such a short distance. Enjoy!