Leaf Peeping in Longenecker Gardens and Wingra Woods


We debated whether or not to take raincoats as we left the Arboretum Visitor Center. The forecast predicted showers but the radar looked clear. We were split on the raincoat decision, trying to decide if taking the raincoats would ensure no rain or if not taking the raincoats would ensure rain. In the end, it showered on us a few times, but not much and it was a balmy 60+ degrees F so we all survived.

We are within (or, arguably, past) peak leaf season so we headed out to try to see as many leaves as possible. Starting off through Longenecker, we admired the reds, oranges, and yellows of the maples but also enjoyed the lime-green of some magnolia leaves. We saw a group of cedar waxwings flutter through the crabapples.

Crossing over to the Wingra Woods parking lot, we enjoyed a dark red maple and then headed down toward Big Spring. Wingra Woods was absolutely gorgeous – the yellow maple leaves were gently waving in the breezes and when you looked out through the forest you saw a gentle “rain” of yellow leaves drifting down to the ground. Down between N5 and K4, keep your eyes open for witch hazel, in full flower, along the lake-side of the trail.

Heading up from K2 to K4, we paused to admire a trio of trees – brilliant dark orange/brown/red oak leaves overlapping with yellow maple leaves and green beech leaves. We stood silent for a moment, looking up. We looked down and found that we were being stared at by a young deer. The deer seemed unconcerned with our presence and went on with its business. It’s awesome (in the true sense of the word) to be so close to such a large wild mammal—although, of course, the Arboretum’s deer population is too large. With abundant vegetation but little predator pressure, deer populations are huge. Plants, however, are under a lot of pressure from deer—and so you might notice the many fences that Arboretum volunteers have erected around many woody plants in Longenecker Gardens.

In our pause, we also noticed that we were right in front of a musclewood tree (Carpinus caroliniana). Aptly named, musclewood has a smooth, sinewy trunk. “Musclewood” sums it up well. This tree is also commonly called hornbeam—which helps people confuse it with another tree (Ostrya virginiana) that is commonly called hop-hornbeam. Although the two trees have some similarities in size and leaf structure, their barks look nothing alike. Hop-hornbeam is not muscly at all but rather has a finely shaggy bark. We then made our way up and across the road into Gallistel—to complete our leaf-peeping loop.
If you are considering a visit to the Arb this week, I would encourage a hike through Wingra woods. It is fall at its finest.

Sara Cohen Christopherson, Arboretum Naturalist

Located between Lake Wingra and the West Beltline Highway at 1207 Seminole Highway, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum features the restored prairies, forests and wetlands of pre-settlement Wisconsin. This 1,260-acre arboretum also houses flowering trees, shrubs and a world-famous lilac collection. Educational tours for groups and the general public, science and nature-based classes for all ages and abilities, and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for groups, families and individuals are available.