Cape May’s Fall Colors 2013

Cape May Point, NJ -  Overnight, the air is cooler, fall has arrived and the seashore color palette is changing before our eyes.

We don’t have the vibrant Sugar Maples and White Ashes that color northern forests.  You have to cross the Cape May Canal just to see decent stands of native Red Maples and Sweetgums.

But, on Cape Island, the fall color is there. It’s just in some unexpected and out of the way places.

Every year, Higbee Beach’s fragile dune forest goes through its subtle fall metamorphosis. What looked like a tangle of solid green earlier in the season shifts into distinct shades of red and yellow and copper.  The paths are empty in November – most birders and tourists have gone.  It’s a  wonderful time to enjoy a walk in the woods.

The vibrant red you see all over the place is the lowly Sumac.  In open areas, Sumac spreads like wildfire.

The fields at Higbee Beach are blazing with it right now.

More than likely, the yellow foliage you see at Higbee and also around the island comes from the stalwart Sassafras tree and seedlings. It’s a local tree with mitten like leaves that loves Cape May’s climate. While some Sassafras turn a show stopping bright yellow, others take on more of an orange tint.

Sassafras blends into the background for most of the year, then, come fall, almost jumps right out of the landscape.

Something else easy to spot in the fall is Poison Ivy.

The toxic vine turns wine red come autumn. It’s so pretty, you almost have to forgive it for its nasty nature.

Same for those invasive phragmites.  How they love to take over a wet spot. But, when Cape May’s late afternoon November sun shines on them, the hard to eradicate plants glisten like an impressionist painting.

Sumac and poison ivy and phragmites aside, November’s true magic touch comes with the famous dredge spoils at Higbee.

A mountain of muck becomes a mountain of gold late in the day. That autumn light is a powerful thing indeed.

So yes, we’ll give Vermont its Sugar Maples.  But Cape May does have some unexpectedly beautiful fall colors. You just have to know where to look.

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About Jane Kashlak

Jane Kashlak - a journalist, gardener and Cape Island resident - is writing a book.