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One of the best activities that hasn’t been disrupted by the pandemic is checking out the beauty of fall foliage.
Pennsylvania has a longer and more varied fall foliage season than any other U.S. state — or anywhere in the world, according to the Pa. Bureau of Forestry. With Philly’s many parks, you don’t have to travel outside the city to appreciate the changing of the season.
According to the arbor experts at TreePhilly, the city is home to a few species that shine extra bright. They are:
- Black gum
- Sugar maple
In general, you can hit up MLK Drive between Black Road and Montgomery Drive, because the route there is lined with old London planetrees that put on a good show. Kelly Drive and the Schuylkill River Trail are always good bets, as is a walk along the Wissahickon.
Some of the best viewing is right in the center of the city — where the striking autumn colors make a splash against the urban backdrop.
To identify those singular standouts, we crowdsourced nine of the prettiest fall trees in Philly.
Eakins Oval Maple
Right across from Eakins oval is this pleasingly symmetrical specimen, which is often one of the first trees in the city to put on a show. If you catch it right, it’ll match up with the sculpture beside it: the steel “Iroquois” by artist Mark di Suvero.
Belmont Plateau Maple
Yeah, this one’s a gimme. Not that anyone’s counted, but the standalone maple is quite probably the most photographed tree in all of Philadelphia. With excellent reason! Its boughs stretch wide and long, setting up a perfect framing for the Philly skyline beside ochre and rust-colored leaves.
Bartram’s Garden Ginko
When a tree has 230 years of experience with the changing of the seasons, you can bet on a good show. This male on the grounds of the Southwest Philly public garden is thought to be the oldest Ginko in North America. Per Bartram’s Garden, it was “one of three original ginkgo trees sent to the U.S. from London in 1785 by William Hamilton of The Woodlands.” Each autumn it puts on a stunning coat of sunshine-bright gold.
Ridgeway Park Sweetgum
Reader Darren Fava sent in this love letter to this pointy-leaved sweetgum at Ridgway Park, which is located along 13th Street between Carpenter and Christian, just behind CAPA.
Arching high above the 13th Street power lines just north of Carpenter is a Sweetgum tree. It’s not the largest tree at the park, but it puts on a wonderfully colorful display each fall. Starting in early October the tree turns red at the top. Then it slowly ups the aesthetic ante by adding shades of orange, brown and yellow as the month progresses.
There’s one branch on the north-east side of the tree that puts on an especially colorful show. It’s an awkwardly-shaped branch that’s hardly noticeable most of the year. It grows somewhat downward after it was pruned away from the powerlines. But in autumn it struts its stuff as if to say, in a very South Philly way: “Color? You want some color? I’ll give you some color!”
Independence Square Sweetgum
When the statue of Commodore John Barry behind Independence Hall was unveiled in 1907, the sweetgum behind it was either a tiny sapling or not there at all. It’s autumn cloak of tangerine gives the Revolutionary War leader an extra-majestic air as it frames his forward gaze.
Glen Foerd Japanese Maple
Fall brings many multi-hued tree crowns to the estate surrounding this historic mansion and event site on the Delaware River in Northeast Philly. One of the most notable is what a reader called the “twisty tree” and Glen Foerd executive director identified as a cucumber magnolia. Thought to be approximately 150 years old, its colorful branches sprawl across the lawn in near-horizontal fashion.
Lemon Hill Maple
Reader Nancy Rigberg sent a photo of this red maple just off Lemon Hill Drive in East Fairmount Park. Located near the historic mansion, it outshines its compatriots with leaves in carmine tones that range from brick to scarlet.
Fairmount Park Recycling Center Sumac
Between Chamounix Field and the Organic Recycling Center in West Fairmount Park, there are multiple stands of staghorn sumac, whose large-toothed fronds turn a combination of red, orange and yellow. Said the TreePhilly staffer who sent in this photo, “They look like they belong in Jurassic Park!”
Washington Square Black Gum
More than 60 species of trees can be found in the park that’s now part of Independence National Historical Park and was one of William Penn’s five original “public squares.” Tucked among its massive maples is this hidden gem of a black gum, which dresses its leaves in various shades from yellow to purple as the season progresses.