URBANA, Ill. - Fall weather is perfect for festivals and country drives. It is also a time to focus on fall colors and nature’s beauty, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
“During these drives, take the opportunity to embrace what we too often take for granted,” said Rhonda Ferree. “To help you do this, take a scavenger hunt and look for items along your way. You’ll find some items sold with crafts, and you’ll find other items in the natural surroundings along the drive.”
Ferree suggests hunting for:
- Red sassafras leaves. Sassafras leaves have smooth edges and are mitten-shaped. The “mittens” come in left- and right-hand versions or a three-lobed shape. The leaves turn brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red in autumn.
- Orange Bittersweet. This plant should be visible among the fencerows (or in crafts) along the drive. Bittersweet’s orange berries are easily spotted among the brown, drying leaves of most fencerows.
- Yellow elm leaves. Most elms have yellow fall color. Unfortunately, many elms have suffered miserably from last summer’s severe drought. We’ll likely see many trees—elms and more—die over the next couple years as a result of last year’s drought.
- Green hedgeballs. Also called Osage orange, they grow on trees that make the best hedge posts. These trees thrive in drought conditions. Some say that Newton’s Law of Gravity was actually precipitated by a hedgeball, not an apple.
- Blue Aster. These beautiful perennial plants are still visible along some roadsides.
- Purple grapes. You probably won’t find grapes anywhere, but you’ll find grape products such as grape jelly, wine, and juice. Maybe if you are lucky, you’ll even find a grape pie.
- Black walnuts. Though there are many black walnut trees along the drive, most lose their leaves very early. You might find nuts for sale or at your feet as you walk through festival grounds. Black walnuts have a strong nut flavor that people either really like or really hate.
- Brown grasses. Unmown grasses have flowered and gone to seed. This is a good time to see the contrast of textures and shapes between different grass types.
- White pumpkins. You might find these in two sizes. Lumina is 8 to 10 inches and perfect for painting and carving. Baby Boo is a three-inch miniature.
Finally, Ferree suggests picking out your favorite country scene. “The next time you have a bad day, picture that scene in your mind and relax. Although this scavenger hunt has no prize, you will find that you are blessed simply to be in beautiful rural America,” she said.