12 Trees With Brilliant Fall Color

Illustration showing trees with brilliant fall color

The Spruce / Paige McLaughlin

Deciduous trees offer spectacular and colorful foliage during the fall season. However, fall is only one season of the year, and the best landscape trees will offer something of notable value for other seasons, too. For example, some Japanese tree varieties might offer vibrant autumn color while a maple tree might also be a great source of sap for making syrup.

In other words, don't settle for foliage that is spectacular only in fall, when you could have a tree that also offers colorful spring flowers or fruit that feeds birds in summer. Here are 12 types of deciduous trees that provide both great autumn color and have at least one other notable feature.

  • 01 of 12

    'Sunburst' Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis 'Suncole')

    Sunburst honeylocust foilage

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    The honeylocust typically produces bright yellow fall foliage, but the 'Sunburst' cultivar is even more interesting because its leaves feature a touch of green mixed into the yellow. It also has golden-yellow foliage in the spring, which then transitions to deep green in the summer before returning to golden yellow in fall.

    As an additional benefit, it's also a good street tree, tolerant of drought, road salt, and pollution. Unlike other honeylocust trees, it is thornless and seedless. 'Sunburst' grows to about 40 feet.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Variation: Golden spring foliage, green summer foliage, yellow-and-green fall color
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained soil
  • 02 of 12

    River Birch (Betula nigra)

    Fall foliage of river birch tree

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    River birch is a colorful tree in the fall, but to stop there would be to shortchange it. The river birch's best feature is not its fall color, but rather its fascinating peeling bark, which is there for you to enjoy during winter, spring, summer, and fall. As an added benefit, river birch trees—which grow 30 to 60 feet tall—tolerate wet areas better than many other plants.

    River birch may be one of the more popular birch trees used in landscaping in North America but consider other types of birch, too. The classic paper birch displays bark with white color, while yellow birch offers an interesting golden bark. Other birches have a weeping form. All of these trees display beautiful yellow leaves in autumn.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Variation: Dark green leaves turning yellow in fall; attractive peeling bark in white and reddish-brown
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained soil; tolerates wet conditions
  • 03 of 12

    Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica)

    Fall foliage of swamp tupelo tree.

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    The spectacular scarlet fall color is just one great feature of the black gum tree (sometimes known as tupelo). Growing up to 80 feet, this is another tree with excellent tolerance for wet soil, even adapting to standing water. It has blackish fruits that are a favorite food of birds. Adding to the beauty of the fall color is the shininess of the leaves. If you are buying a black gum tree intending to achieve optimal fall color in your landscape, select the 'Autumn Cascades' cultivar, which has a weeping growth habit.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Variation: Dark green spring and fall leaves; bright scarlet fall color
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium-moisture to wet soil
  • 04 of 12

    Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

    Sugar maple tree with vibrant yellow and orange leaves in fall

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Maple trees are the royals of the fall foliage world in North America. Tourists, who are dubbed "leaf peepers," sometimes drive hundreds of miles to locations such as the White Mountains of New Hampshire to witness the magnificent fall foliage displays. Different types of maples display brilliant yellow, red, orange, or burgundy fall colors, and the color of an individual tree can sometimes vary from year to year.

    Within the Acer genus, the sugar maples (Acer sacharum) offer the unique benefit of sap that can be tapped and boiled down to make delicious maple syrup. Growing 40 to 120 feet, sugar maples are relatively slow-growing trees with large leaves that are good as yard or street trees.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Variation: Medium green spring and summer foliage; yellow, orange, or red fall color
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium-moisture, well-drained soil
    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12

    Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)

    Japanese maple foilage

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    Many varieties of Japanese maple trees boast colorful leaves not just in autumn, but during other seasons as well. Most types grow 15 to 25 feet, but 'Crimson Queen' Japanese maple is a dwarf type favored by lovers of weeping trees. The finely lobed leaves of Japanese maple are especially attractive from a close distance. This species is popular for Japanese garden designs and with aficionados of the art of bonsai. The leaves add gorgeous texture in the garden, as well as color.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Color Variation: Light green, dark green, or burgundy summer foliage; yellow, red-purple, or bronze fall color
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist soil; prefers slightly acidic soil
  • 06 of 12

    Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)

    Shagbark hickory tree with bright yellow leaves in fall

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Several species of the Carya genus of hickory trees exhibit attractive golden brown fall color, but the shagbark hickory also has bark that exfoliates and peels in long strips that give the tree great winter interest. This species of hickory also provides edible nuts, and its wood is excellent as fuel for smoking meats or for use in furniture. The shagbark hickory grows 70 to 90 feet tall and provides plenty of shade.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Variation: Yellow-green spring and summer foliage; golden-brown fall color
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained loam
  • 07 of 12

    Beech (Fagus Spp.)

    Beech tree branches with orange-red leaves in fall

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Beech trees and shagbark hickory trees have several things in common: lovely yellow-golden leaves in fall, beautiful bark, and edible nuts. However, beech trees have two notable advantages when it comes to fall foliage: They change color later in the season, and they hold their leaves for a longer period of time. Two species of beech, American beech (Fagus grandifolia) and European beech (F. sylvatica), also have attractive gray bark that adds winter interest. One cultivar, tricolor beech (F. sylvatica 'Tricolor'), has colorful variegated leaves that are attractive in spring and summer, as well as in fall. Beech trees grow to a mature height of 20 to 80 feet, depending on the variety.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9, depending on species
    • Color Variation: Dark green summer foliage, golden bronze fall color
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained soil
  • 08 of 12

    American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

    American Sweetgum tree branches with bright orange maple-like leaves

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    American sweetgum can be as colorful in fall as any tree—at least when climate and conditions cooperate. You may not get such a spectacular show every autumn, but when you do, you will revel in the mixture of colors: red, orange, purple, gold, yellow, and green. The gumballs produced by the sweetgum is of interest to those interested in crafts, as they can be used in wreaths, kissing balls, and other projects. If you are not a crafty person, though, you might want to choose a cultivar that doesn't produce the messy gumballs. Sweetgum trees typically grow to be 60 to 80 feet tall with large leaves that make for good shade trees.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Variation: Dark-green summer leaves; yellow, orange, purple, and red fall colors
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Medium-moisture, well-drained soil; does not do well in alkaline soil
    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12

    Purple-Leaf Sand Cherry (Prunus × cistena)

    Purple-Leaf Sand Cherry


    D-Ozen / Getty Images

    The purple-leaf sand cherry is a large shrub often trained as a small tree. It is aptly named, as the reddish-purple foliage is consistent throughout the summer. However, this specimen also has beautiful pinkish-white flowers in spring, leading to blackish-blue fruit that attracts birds in late summer. Its fall color is an attractive greenish-bronze, making this a tree with excellent year-round interest. This is a hybrid form of cherry that is somewhat short-lived, around 10 years as the typical lifespan.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 8
    • Color Variation: Reddish purple summer foliage; greenish-bronze fall color
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained soil
  • 10 of 12

    Dogwood (Cornus spp.)

    Dogwood tree branches with green-orange leaves in fall

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Dogwood trees such as flowering dogwood (C. florida) and Japanese dogwood (C. kousa) boast terrific spring interest on account of the flowers they bear, while red-twig dogwood (C. sericea) has bright red stems that provide winter interest. Many folks sell dogwood short when it comes to its fall color, but the foliage is quite attractive, with colors ranging from orange to reddish-purple. Like black gum, dogwoods bear fruit that is eaten by wild birds. In size, dogwoods range from dwarf shrubs to small trees growing to about 25 feet tall, depending on species and cultivar.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9, depending on species
    • Color Variation: Dark green summer foliage; orange to reddish-purple fall color
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist soil; prefers slightly acidic soil
  • 11 of 12

    Sumac (Rhus Spp.)

    Sumac trees with green, yellow and bright orange leaves in fall

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) and staghorn sumac (R. typhina) are the most common landscape varieties, both growing 10 to 15 feet tall. These non-poisonous varieties can be considered potential landscape trees because they provide splendid autumn foliage and are easy to grow.

    In addition to the spectacular fall color, sumac has been used for culinary purposes, for erosion control, and as a windbreak. Along with black gum and dogwood, you can add this plant to the list of trees that feed wild birds with their berries.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Variation: Bright orange to red fall color; red, berry-like drupes
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Dry to medium moisture, well-drained soil


    Sumac can spread aggressively unless supervised.

  • 12 of 12

    Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

    Aspen fall foilage

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    The colorful fall foliage of quaking aspen is almost synonymous with autumn in the American West, but the proclivity of its leaves to tremble in the breeze is as famous as its golden-yellow color. Being able to listen to and admire the sound is an added benefit to growing this plant. The leaves add movement to the garden. Quaking aspens also have an attractive, smooth whitish-colored bark that offers year-round interest. The trees grow to 40 to 50 feet at maturity.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 1 to 6
    • Color Variation: Golden-yellow fall foliage; brilliant white bark
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained soil
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Carya ovata. NC State Extension.

  2. Rhus glabra. NC State Extension