Think of New York Harbor and fabulous sights of fall foliage doesn’t necessarily come to mind. Locals, however, know differently. Surrounding the great tidal waters of this busy and bustling estuary are a handful of wonderful parks and preserves to view changing leaves.
Some of my favorite sites to view fall color include Fresh Kills Park, Blue Heron Park, and Conference House Park, all located on Staten Island. In New Jersey, there is Cheesequake State Park in Old Bridge Township and Hartshorne Woods and Huber Woods, both part of the Monmouth County Park System.
Sure, New York Harbor doesn’t have the great richness and variety of color often found in New England or upstate New York, such as in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Green Mountains of Vermont, or the Adirondacks of Northern New York. Northeastern coastlines often lack a good mixture of maple species to produce flaming hues of oranges, yellows and reds. Instead, fall foliage along the shore usually has a different type of appeal and subtle charm.
Around New York Harbor peak fall foliage usually arrives around late October or early November. Reds, purples, yellows, and browns provide a colorful show from an assortment of tree species. Many trees with whimsical names that sound like experimental bubblegum flavors: Staghorn sumac, Winged Sumac, Tree of Heaven, Redbud, Red Mulberry, Persimmon, Tulip tree, Sassafras, Sycamore, Sweetgum, and Wild Cherry.
Fall color typically starts weeks earlier along the coast as nights start to grow chillier and daylight slowly diminishes. Tupelo or Blackgum trees are one of the first trees to turn color starting in September, though sometimes as early as August. The tree provides an early blast of fall color and makes me think of things to come.
Virginia Creeper and Poison Ivy are next to turn color in September with bright red hues often seen along roadsides and climbing the sides of buildings. The leaves of poison ivy are so bright and beautiful you might be tempted to pick some to preserve or make a pretty floral display, but be beware the plant is known as poison ivy for a reason.
Also along the coast Tall Marsh Cordgrass and slender Salt Meadow Grass have been growing all summer, but come September these salt marsh grasses start to turn color, from a lush green to a golden hue. They provide a nice contrast to colorful seaside goldenrod, which is flowering profusely at this time.
All this leads up to the best fall color by the end of October or early November. The landscape has color. Peak fall foliage is no longer found in the mountains but instead along the coastlines. Beech, maples and oak leaves turn red, golden, or russet. It never seems to fail that many oak leaves will always try to cling to the trees for as long as they can, but by mid-winter gusty northeast winds have blown the leaves away to create bare silhouettes of tall trees.
Fall foliage around New York Harbor is not long. The best and most brilliant color has usually faded by Veteran’s Day. Yet those newly fallen leaves are not valueless. They will gradually decompose over time to provide rich nutrients and food into the soil for new plants and trees to grow in years to follow around hardworking harbor waters.