Eleven autumns at the Arnold Arboretum and one thing has become clear to me. The hickory collection is the absolute pinnacle of fall colors. Because the Arnold is organized taxonomically (maple collection, magnolia collection, ginkgo collection…) one can experience something that cannot be found in nature: tight groupings of closely related species to be observed in one swoop—much like a museum with Rembrandts in one gallery, Monets in another.
Right now, the intensely yellow/gold crowns of the core of the hickory collection (adjacent to the Centre Street Beds) are at their annual peak. This hickory “gallery” includes water hickories (Carya aquatica), bitternut hickories (Carya cordiformis), pignuts (Carya glabra; upper image, 20095*A; lower left, 23166*A), pecans (Carya illinoinensis), shellbark hickories (Carya laciniosa; lower right, 806-87*C), nutmeg hickories (Carya myristiciformis), shagbark hickories (Carya ovata), sand hickories (Carya pallida), a black hickory (Carya texana), and mockernut hickories (Carya tomentosa). I cannot imagine another spot in the world where standing in one place would offer such an intensity of hickory fall colors.
Mornings and mid-afternoons, when the sun is low in the sky, the crowns of these stately trees, many of which date back to the Sargent era of the late 1800s and early 1900s, are aglow. And indeed, several of these accessions were collected by Charles Sprague Sargent (founding director of the Arnold Arboretum) himself (for a fantastic history of Sargent’s obsession with hickories, head here). With many of the hickories well over a hundred years in age, and often with very tall single trunks, this experience may leave you with a sore neck from all of the upward gazing involved – a small price to pay for what I believe is one of the most breathtaking scenes one can experience in the Arnold Arboretum.