October 30, 2011

The stained-glass effect

Looking up through the canopy of an Oak woodland on a sunny fall day is like looking through an intricate stained-glass mosaic.


While the colors of Oak leaves are more muted than those of Maples, Sumacs, and other vibrant species, Oaks’ beauty is unequaled when backlit with sunlight against dark tree bark or bright blue sky.



Oak savannas and Oak woodlands were the predominant ecosystems in this part of the Midwest until the mid-19th Century, according to the Wisconsin DNR. Most of the acreage was:

  • Cleared and plowed;
  • Overgrazed; or
  • Invaded by dense shrub and tree growth due to lack of fire, lack of grazing, or both.


    Oak savannas and woodlands are now endangered habitats. I’ve been researching them lately, hoping to gain a greater understanding of the sweet ecosystem outside my back door. These sites offer detailed information on the history, current status, and outlook for these unique habitats:



    At this time of year, I admit, living on the edge of a small Oak woodland isn’t easy. Last fall, we hauled 10-15 tarps full of Oak leaves into a large compost pile in the woods. This year, we were “lucky” when a windstorm blew most of the first drop of leaves into the forest and the perennial beds—where they’ll stay as a natural mulch until I rake them off in the spring.


    But Oaks hold their leaves longer than other deciduous trees. Some have barely lost any leaves, and others will hold at least some of their foliage until spring. That’s fortunate for us, since we’ll have a “stained-glass” view for a little longer.




    26 comments:

    1. It really is true, the light through the leaves really does have a stained glass look. It is so pretty at this time of year, even if the colors had a bit less staying power.

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    2. Beautiful photos, dear Beth, as usual! I'm following you on Googlefriend, FB and Twitter. :)
      BTW: Is it snowing there in Wisconsin?
      Have a nice evening.

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    3. How magnificent. I really like the stained-glass effect!

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    4. Beth, those oak leaves are really special. They don't need the vibrant colours of some other autumn leaves, they're just quietly lovely.

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    5. Lovely, I do find oak leaves very particularly beautiful, I suspect because it is such an iconic English tree, it brings out the romantic. Mind you, I guess we are talking about different trees, ours are Quercus robur - are yours Quercus palustris? Certainly the leaves seem to be slightly different, spikier, more reminiscent of snowflakes somehow, ours are a little more rounded, but now I want to go and hunt down some leaves for comparison, in case I am barking mad!!

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    6. I love the mosaic of the leaves as you call it...I wish we had an oak or 2 here but we have ash and maple native to our woods. I was lucky that they saved many trees when the developed the land so I could have them in my wildlife garden...at the old house we had groves of 100 foot various maples and black walnuts...quite the challenge to garden under and get rid of the knee deep leaves that piled up in the garden...lovely pictures

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    7. Such beautiful photos, Beth; it really does look as if you're looking through stained glass. We have a very old oak at the front of our property, and though the leaves aren't as colorful as the maples it's still my favorite tree. I think it might be a vestige of those days long ago when all this was prairie, too.

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    8. Hello Beth, how very nice to meet another Wisconsin gardener. And thank you for the moral support on empty-nesting, it helps so much!

      I love oak trees. I only have a few young red oak growing here on the farm, nothing like the trees we see whenever we venture into the Oshkosh area, such a beautiful sight. You are very right about the stained glass effect, I'd like to capture that in a stained glass panel some day.

      Again, very nice to meet you!

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    9. Ah, the mighty oak. How wonderful for you to be living on an edge of them. I think leaves falling is one of the best things about autumn. Of course, I don't have to rake them!

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    10. I love that notion - will lie on my back and look up at them.

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    11. Stunning photography. The mixed forests of southwestern Wisc., northeaster Iowa and southeastern Minn.(Bluff Country) are every bit as gorgeous as New England and the Ozarks in the fall. Here in my little forest acreas I have white oak, Burr Oak and Red Oak. I love them all.

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    12. I do love oaks and your pictures are warm and lovely. Our oak leaves are tattered and torn this fall, courtesy of Hurricane Irene. Now they have inches of snow on them also. No pretty colors here this year.

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    13. @Donna: Yes, it's so dramatic sometimes and hard to capture at just the right moment when the sunlight hits the leaf.

      @dona: Thank you! I need to spend a little more time with Twitter. I use it at work more, but it's hard to maintain for this avocation. :) I'm glad I'm following you, too! (No, we missed out on the snow, thankfully!)

      @cooking: Thank you! It is quite dramatic at points--especially since Oak leaves sport so many colors.

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    14. @Lyn: Yes, I agree. Especially when the sun hits them at just the right angle. :)

      @Janet: The most common ones here are Quercus macrocarpa (Bur), alba (White), velutina (Black), ellipsoidalis (Northern Pin), and rubra (Red). I think we have all in our little woodland.

      @Donna: Your little woodland sounds beautiful, but yes challenging--especially with the Black Walnuts. They are lovely trees, though, too!

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    15. @Rose: Oh, you are very fortunate then, too! I agree, they seem like old-fashioned trees. And I guess they are! Thanks!

      @Karen: Yes, of course (empty-nest support club). Thank you for your compliment. I would like to see your stained-glass work--particularly a rendering of Oak leaves!

      @Holley: Yes, raking is the frustrating part. It's a serious workout! But the payoff is worth it!

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    16. @Catharine: I need to do that, too! Craning my neck for the photos was uncomfortable. Hopefully, the ground won't be too wet. :)

      @Trout: Yes, I love them all, too! Especially looking up at the leaves before they fall into piles. Thanks!

      @Layanee: I'm sorry about the hurricane and the snow! Believe me, I'll be complaining in January, February, March, (and April?)...

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    17. Aw yes, 'the stained-glass effect' ... I love it! And your photos are lovely. Happy November :)

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    18. There are a lot of old English oaks planted in the Winelands. Some are feeling their age. Pin oaks are becoming more popular, smaller trees with smaller leaves, but still Autumn turning leaves.

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    19. you've really captured the beauty of oak trees, beth! living under a canopy of oaks is a requirement of mine. i don't know if i could stand to be without it...even if the leaf litter is a lot of work. not to mention all those acorns!

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    20. Very beautiful Beth!!! You really captured the beauty of standing under a tree... :)

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    21. I really enjoyed your stained glass windows to nature. There is something so magical about the light in autumn especially through those jewel-toned leaves.

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    22. Your photographs are lovely. I wish that I had an oak tree. I love their leaf shape and acorns.

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    23. @Joey: Thank you! Your photos and mosaics always look like stained glass--so amazing!

      @Elephant's Eye: Sounds lovely! All the Oaks have their special place in the landscape.

      @Daricia: Thanks! I've come to appreciate them more over the years. When we first moved here, the chore of raking was a little overwhelming.

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    24. @Hanni: Thanks! I'm still working getting the settings just right, but when the light hits at a certain angle the effect is incredible!

      @Sage: Yes, the autumn light is great! And mild weather makes it easier to spend time outdoors. Thanks!

      @Jennifer: Thank you! There's just something special about looking up through the canopy of old, established trees.

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    25. Lovely works of art!

      Thankfully, I got over that pink eye with the first round of eye drops.

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    26. @Sue: Thanks! I'm glad the drops worked--now you can get back to the activities that you enjoy so much!

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