Changing colors of autumn light up SE landscape

Posted: Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Slowly passing from higher elevations to the lower ones, the shifting colors of the oncoming season are like burning embers igniting neighboring forests.

David Lendrum is a master gardener and owner of Landscape Alaska. Responses or questions can be sent to

The rich reds and purples against golden orange and true yellows show another side of the wild world. Polarizing filters make otherwise invisible details plain, infra-red or ultra violet lenses show hidden aspects of bland backgrounds, and the fall colors make startling displays in formerly subdued spaces.

Take the boardwalk from the Eaglecrest road and stroll out over the muskeg and wonder at the tapestry of low bush cranberry and Canadian dogwood. Pick a handful of the sweetest blueberries of the year, right next to the familiar waist-high Alaska blueberries are a cluster of the smaller round leaved blueberries. The flavor is distinct; the look of the plants is so dissimilar that although it is easy to tell that they are related, it is not until you eat a fruit that the closeness of the relationship is obvious. Seedy and sweet, while puckery at the same time, it is unmistakably a blueberry.

Threading through the mossy cover is the five-vaned bottlebrush of the crowberry. Its glistening black fruits cause taste buds to recoil at the acidity. The slow releasing flavor that lingers after the acid response is much better, but all three pale in comparison to the gem of the season.

The lowbush cranberry or lignonberry is a stunningly beautiful little shrub. It has the ability to spread underground by fleshy rhizomes, popping back up a few inches away with new centers and then diving back for another swim. The shiny evergreen leaves and delicate branch structure make it very desirable as an ornamental, and I have seen exquisite small bonsai like examples in containers.

Right now the brilliant red of the leaves disguises the round red fruit, but these salmon egg sized morsels are delicious. The leaves have varying shades of carmine, rose, rich red and gold at the same time, and these little globes of flavor just vanish against the riot of color.

Spreading alongside of these tiny red leaves are the much more substantial ones of the dogwood. The fruits of this one are offered up on top of the dark red foliage as if they were being presented at a banquet. They are not as tasty for us as the others, but the birds and small mammals seem to like them just as much. Now that they are ripe, they can be picked for the lucrative horticultural market. There are many kids in Juneau who pay for their school clothing by picking these berries.

The environment in the mossy, saturated muskeg is paradise for many such lifeforms. The constant moisture underneath and the airy support of the moss make a place for these sub-shrubs that is perfect. They are so very happy here it makes me chortle as I kneel in my rain gear, picking a few for fun, but mostly just looking.

The similarity between this tiny landscape and the larger one we live among is enchanting. In other places it's just the fruit. Here the whole world gets ripe, and we lucky creatures devour it with all our senses.

Maples and azaleas in our yards, or the scarlet-fruited wildlings, color is being poured across the landscape as we watch.

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