A fiery sight

Every autumn this sight grabs my attention.  It looks as if flames are licking along the upright branches of an evergreen tree in the Wellington Botanic Garden.  On closer inspection it is clear that all is well, but there is no lessening in the visual drama.  The fiery colours are the leaves of Parthenocissus tricuspidata (Boston ivy or Japanese creeper) in their full autumn regalia.

When it comes to enjoying autumn leaf colour Wellington suffers a double disadvantage - our maritime climate does not deliver the temperature variations which favour the development of intense colours, and we have winds which quickly blow away any leaves that do put on a display. 

Parthenocissus vines are reliable in colouring up regardless (Parthenocissus quinquefolia, or Virginia creeper, is also a very decorative plant.)  They can be used to beautify walls or unsightly areas or even to provide insulation by shading the walls of a building in summer.  But they are vigorous climbers and have to be kept in check if they are not to smother other plants.

Their display is most welcome right now, as the days get colder and wetter and more grey, and before there is much colour from any other deciduous plants.  This year it looks as though some plants have responded to the drought with early loss of leaves, helping them to manage with so little water - so even less colour from them.  But the glossy leaves and colourful display of these Parthenocissus suggests that they are coping well despite the long dry late summer. 

A close up of Parthenocissus tricuspidata leaves growing along a wall, and many that have already fallen on the grass, showing a glorious mix of reds, golds, greens and pinks.  This image was captured in a spell between the periods of quite heavy rain - which is most welcome, but rather dull!