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The Best Places to See Fall Colors

September 17, 2022

As summer’s warmth gradually gives way to the crisp autumn air, there’s no better place to immerse yourself in the beauty and brilliant colors of the season than at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Nestled along the East River, this urban oasis transforms into a stunning kaleidoscope of colors during the fall months. Here’s your ultimate guide on what to do and see at Brooklyn Bridge Park this autumn.

Emily Warren Roebling Plaza

Visit the newest section of Brooklyn Bridge Park to enjoy incredible views of the Brooklyn Bridge amongst the changing colors of Fall. Walk around the footings of this incredible bridge with a warm drink in hand or pack a picnic basket with your favorite fall treats and enjoy a meal with a view.

Pier 1

Enjoy unparalleled views of New York Harbor and Lower Manhattan on Harbor View Lawn at Pier 1, or take a leisurely stroll along the park’s pathways and admire the changing leaves of the numerous tree species. The fiery reds, rich oranges, and golden yellows create a breathtaking backdrop for your autumn adventures. These secluded paths offer some of the most immersive fall environments the city has to offer- you might even forget you’re in one.

Focus On: The Spectacular Beauty of the Sumac Trees! 🍂 🐦🌿

Sumac trees in their fall glory are an incredible sight to enjoy. These native North American shrubs and small trees can steal the show during the fall season. Sumac trees are hardy, adaptable, and low-maintenance – a great addition to gardens and natural areas. Their vibrant fall colors and ecological benefits make them a valuable component of native plantings.

The Sumac trees at Pier 1 offer seriously brilliant fall foliage! Their leaves turn deep hues fiery red and orange, adding warmth and drama to the landscape. One of the most distinctive features of sumac trees in the fall is their clusters of fuzzy red berries. These conical clusters, called “drupes,” persist long after the leaves have fallen, creating a striking contrast against the winter landscape. While not all sumac species produce edible berries, some, like the staghorn sumac, are known for their tangy, lemon-flavored edible fruits used in beverages and spice blends. But please don’t pick, eat, or forage in the Park, leave these treats for the birds and other creatures stopping over for a rest!

But the trees don’t just provide food for migratory visitors; they also provide other valuable resources for wildlife. Birds, such as robins, thrushes, and waxwings, are attracted to sumac berries as a food source. The dense thickets created by sumac plants offer shelter and nesting sites for various bird species, making sumac a valuable addition to wildlife-friendly landscapes.

Squibb Park Bridge

Take in the views and the colorful mix of leaves in all shades of red, orange and yellow from above!

Focus on: Scarlet Oak Trees & A Canopy of Red Brilliance 🔥🍁🌳🌰

Take in the view of the of breathtaking autumnal transformation from above the trees! The Scarlet Oak trees stand as veritable beacon of fall’s beauty. Scarlet Oak trees, true to their name, unveil a vibrant display of red and orange leaves during the fall season. Their foliage seems to catch fire, illuminating the landscape with an intense brilliance. The wide, arching branches of the Scarlet Oak create a glorious canopy that filters the dappled sunlight, casting a warm, inviting glow on everything below.

Scarlet Oak trees are prolific acorn producers. In the fall, the ground beneath these trees is often scattered with these nutritious nuts. This abundance of acorns provides a vital food source for wildlife, including squirrels and various bird species, making Scarlet Oak trees important contributors to the park’s ecosystem. Keep an eye out for playful squirrels and the fluttering wings of visiting birds.

Beyond their beauty and ecological importance, Scarlet Oak trees carry symbolic significance in some cultures. These trees are associated with strength, endurance, and the ability to weather life’s storms. They stand as a testament to resilience, much like the way they continue to thrive even as winter approaches.

The rich red color of Scarlet Oak leaves in the fall is a result of pigments called anthocyanins. As the days grow shorter and temperatures drop, these pigments are produced in abundance, turning the leaves into the fiery spectacle we adore. This chemical process is not just a visual treat; it’s also a fascinating display of nature’s ingenuity.

Pier 3

Pier 3 and the gorgeous Granite Terrace, on the Pier 3 Greenway Terrace has much to offer in terms of bright, beautiful foliage.

Pier 6

Pier 6’s playgrounds and their surroundings create a place to seclude yourself in the leaves. These plants become a splendid array of colors in the fall that provides the perfect seasonal setting for kids to play in.

While most people think of fall foliage as brightly colored leaves on trees, a huge amount of seasonal color comes from other sources. Pier 6’s flower field, designed to stand out in every season, brings its own flair to the fall landscape.

Focus On: The Enchanting Elegance of Purple New York Asters! 🌸🍂🐝🌱🌿

When looking for some late-season magic, few flowers can rival the charm of the New York Aster. These delightful perennials are a testament to the beauty that autumn brings and are a true gem of autumn flowers.

As summer fades into fall, Purple New York Asters burst into bloom, displaying an array of vivid purple hues. The rich lavender shades of these flowers offer a stunning pop of color to the autumn landscape, providing a burst of color when many other flowers have begun to fade. The late season beauty extends the visual appeal of the garden beds but also contributes to the health of local pollinator populations. The nectar-rich flowers serve as a vital food source for pollinators like butterflies and bees as they prepare for the upcoming winter.

New York Asters are known for their versatility and adaptability; they thrive in a variety of soil types and are relatively low-maintenance. Their hardiness allows them to withstand colder temperatures, ensuring they return year after year.

Why Do Leaves Change Color in the Fall?

Before we unpack our sweaters and taste our first apple cider, changing leaves announce fall’s arrival! Autumn’s arrival transforms the trees and shrubs in Brooklyn Bridge Park to spectacular shades of red, orange, purple and yellow. Which raises the question – why do leaves change color in the fall? Let’s break down the science behind this phenomenon.

In order to understand why leaves change color in the fall, it’s helpful to know some basics about tree pigments and photosynthesis. Inside a leaf lives a plant’s food factory which requires three essential elements for photosynthesis to occur: water, carbon dioxide and sunlight. As water is absorbed through the roots and carbon dioxide from the air, sunlight enters the leaf. Disk-like structures call chloroplasts use the light to change the carbon dioxide and water into breathable oxygen and a sugar called glucose. Inside the chloroplast is a chemical called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll absorbs sunlight, making it crucial for photosynthesis, and gives leaves their green pigment.

All summer long chlorophyll is working at hyper speed, producing a green pigment that masks the yellow and orange pigments underneath. As summer winds down, the nights become longer, the hours of sunlight shorter, and consequently, the weather becomes cooler. This is problematic for chlorophyll because it thrives on sunlight and warm temperatures. As a result, the leaves’ food factories begin to slow and the tree breaks down the chlorophyll, revealing carotenoids and xanthophylls, the pigments responsible for the bright yellow and burnt orange colors in leaves. Many folks may find it surprising that the yellows and oranges we admire in autumn foliage are always there, waiting to appear as the seasons change.

So what about the deep reds and bright purples we often see this time of year? Remember that during photosynthesis, leaves produce oxygen and a sugar called glucose. In some trees, anthocyanins (which produce red, purple, blue and pink pigments) react with excess glucose trapped after photosynthesis This reaction produces the vivid reds and purples in trees such as the Sassafras and Black Tupelo found on Pier 1.

Scientists have recently theorized that these darker colors act as a sunblock to protect the leaves from the mutations of the sun (much like our skin) while the tree pulls available nutrients out of the leaves they are about to drop. Notice how many trees have more purple and red leaves on the top and the outside of their canopy, with more yellow and orange leaves on the interior.

The autumn color display varies from year to year depending on weather, sunlight and soil moisture. The perfect conditions for colorful foliage are found in the Eastern United States as it is characterized by warm, rainy springs followed by cool, sunny autumns. Brooklyn Bridge Park is thrilled to be in the midst of this spectacular show and invites visitors to watch along with us!

Explore Brooklyn Bridge Park This Fall


Birds At Brooklyn Bridge Park

Female Red-winged Blackbird on a branch

© Heather Wolf

Female Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch on a branch

© Heather Wolf

House Finch
Laughing Gull in the water

© Heather Wolf

Laughing Gull
Gray Catbird on a railing

© Heather Wolf

Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing on a twig

© Heather Wolf

Cedar Waxing
Northern Mockingbird Fledging

© Heather Wolf

Northern Mockingbird Fledging
Barn Swallow on a railing

© Heather Wolf

Barn Swallow

There are more than 300 trees planted in the Pier 2 Uplands.

Among the most vibrant plants in the Pier 6 Flower Field is the deep yellow Heliopsis helianthoides, commonly called the False Sunflower or Smooth Oxeye. This native plant can grow to nearly 6ft tall and looks amazing in later summer.

Pier 1 is 9.5 acres, the largest of the park piers.

More than 5 million people visit the Park each year.

Granite Prospect is a dramatic set of steps built from over 300 pieces (approximately 2000 linear feet) of granite stones salvaged from the Roosevelt Island Bridge reconstruction.

Trees, lawns, and shrubs are managed organically

The first section of the Park opened was Pier 1 in March, 2010.

More than 550 trees planted on Pier 3.

The monarch butterfly is one of the most frequent visitors to the Pier 6 Flower Field. Seen the most often here in late August while on their great annual migration.

Over 500 trees are planted on Pier 1.

The Park is managed ecologically.

Pier 1 is the highest point in the Park, the peak is at 20ft.

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