12 Most Colorful Trees for Fall

Trees Offering Autumn Beauty Plus Other Benefits

Sugar maple with orange fall leaves.
Scott Perry/Aurora/Getty Images

There are many different ways to choose the dozen most colorful trees for fall. Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder,  specimens that offer more than just autumn beauty have been selected for this list. Who needs a one-trick pony, right? The following list is composed of fall-foliage standouts that provide an additional benefit.

  • 01 of 12

    Sunburst Honey Locusts

    Sunburst honeylocust
    David Beaulieu

    The touch of green mixed into Sunburst honey locust's leaves gives them a more interesting look than fall foliage that is just plain yellow. As an additional benefit, this tough customer is a good street tree. Besides tolerating drought and road salt, it is a pollution-tolerant tree and does not make much of a mess -- all resume enhancements for a tree that must stand up to the rigors associated with life on the roadside.

  • 02 of 12

    River Birches

    fall foliage of river birch tree.
    David Beaulieu

    River birch is a colorful tree in fall, but to stop there would be to shortchange it. This is a great choice for achieving year-round interest in your landscaping because river birch's best feature is not the fall color of its leaves, but rather its fascinating bark, which is there for you to enjoy winter, spring, summer, and fall. As an added benefit, river birch trees tolerate wet areas in the landscape better than do many other plants.

    While river birch is one of the more popular birch trees used in landscaping in North America currently, other types do exist and have their own benefits. The classic (paper) birch has bark with a white color; yellow birch offers an interesting golden bark. Other birches have a weeping form. All of these fine fall-foliage trees display yellow leaves in autumn.

  • 03 of 12

    Swamp Tupelo Trees

    fall foliage of swamp tupelo tree.
    David Beaulieu

    Nyssa was a water nymph in Greek myth. Her name appears in the botanical name for swamp tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica). This is apt because swamp tupelo tree, like river birch (prior entry) provides the added benefit of being tolerant of wet ground.

    What adds to the beauty of the fall color is the shininess of the leaves. If you will be buying a swamp tupelo with an eye to achieving optimal fall color in your landscape, select the ‘Autumn Cascades' cultivar, which provides you with a weeping plant form, to boot. As if all this were not enough, the drupes (fruits) produced by these trees serve as food for the wild birds.

  • 04 of 12

    Sugar Maple Trees

    maple leaves
    David Beaulieu

    Maple trees are the royals of the fall-foliage world in North America. Folks rather derisively dubbed "leaf peepers" sometimes drive hundreds of miles to witness the magnificent fall-foliage displays in places like the White Mountains of New Hampshire. If you're one of these intrepid travelers, you are probably already aware that maples are bound to make any list of the most colorful trees for fall.

    If you desire color in a hurry, 'Autumn Blaze' maple is one of your better choices. Have you ever dreamed of making your own maple syrup? Surely, it would be a nice bonus to have some home-made syrup to drizzle over your pancakes, wouldn't it? Sugar maples give you just that bonus, potentially.

    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12

    Japanese Maple Trees

    Bloodgood Japanese maple
    David Beaulieu

    Japanese maples have a beauty all their own. Many types have colorful leaves not just in autumn but during other seasons. 'Crimson Queen' Japanese maple is a dwarf type favored by lovers of weeping trees. And what bonus trait lands it on this list? Well, it is popular with aficionados of the art of bonsai.

  • 06 of 12

    Shagbark Hickory Trees

    fall foliage of shagbark hickory tree
    David Beaulieu

    Shagbark hickory is an underrated tree. That it is a colorful tree for fall should be apparent from my picture, which exhibits its wonderfully golden autumn leaves.

    This specimen plant holds winter interest due to the shaggy bark that gives it its name. The added benefit it supplies is the edible hickory nuts.

  • 07 of 12

    Beech Trees

    Beech tree leaves
    David Beaulieu

    Beech trees and shagbark hickory trees are comparable in the sense that they have a few things in common: lovely yellow/golden leaves in fall, winter interest due to the beauty of their bark, and edible nuts.

    If it is nuts that you are most interested in, select the shagbark hickory, which produces a larger nut. Beech trees have one advantage when it comes to fall foliage: they change color later and hold onto their leaves for a longer time, extending the season of interest.

    American beech and European beech also provide winter interest. Tricolor beech has colorful variegated leaves that will be prominent in your landscaping for spring, summer, and fall.

  • 08 of 12

    Sweetgum Trees

    David Beaulieu

    American sweetgum can be as colorful in fall as any tree -- at least when climate and conditions cooperate. One may not get such a spectacular show every autumn from a sweetgum, but when we do, we revel in the mixture of colors.

    Regarding the bonus feature for this tree, you will have to decide whether it is worthwhile for you or not. Some people find them messy, which is why a cultivar that lacks these pods is suggested. If you like crafts, you may wish to grow a kind that does produce gumballs. They can be used in wreaths, kissing balls, and a number of other craft projects.

    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12

    Purple Leaf Sand Cherry

    Purple-leaf sand cherry picture. Purple-leaf sand cherry can be trained into a tree.
    David Beaulieu

    The "purple leaf sand cherry" is aptly named. It does have purple leaves, but that's only part of the story. A reddish tinge comes into those leaves in spring, and it returns in autumn to yield a splendid fall foliage.

    This one will bring some balance to your landscape by affording spring interest. That is, because it has both colorful leaves and fragrant flowers in the springtime, spring is its strongest season.

  • 10 of 12


    David Beaulieu

    Dogwood trees such as flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida) and Japanese dogwood (Cornus kousa), like purple leaf sand cherry, boast terrific spring interest on account of the flowers that they bear at that time of year. Many folks sell dogwood short when it comes to its fall color. Like swamp tupelo, it bears fruit that is eaten by the wild birds -- a benefit valued by bird-watching homeowners who go to great trouble to attract birds to the yard.

  • 11 of 12


    Fall foliage of sumac
    David Beaulieu

    Don't worry: poison sumac is only one variety of sumac, and it is easily distinguished from the non-poisonous varieties. The latter should be considered as potential landscape trees since they provide splendid autumn foliage and are easy to grow.

    Sumac has been used for culinary purposes, for erosion control, and as a windbreak. You can add this plant to the list (along with tupelo and dogwood) of trees to grow if you want to supply food for the wild birds. Robins, bluebirds, and various other species eat the berries in winter.

  • 12 of 12

    Quaking Aspens

    fall foliage color of aspen trees
    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 is their golden-yellow color. Being able to listen to and admire the sound thus produced is surely an added benefit in growing this plant.