Rare Pink Foliage along the Blue Ridge

Finding any truly pick autumn leaves is a rarity, but to find an entire forest of them is the Holy Grail of Leaf Peeping. On Sunday, while driving to Bearwallow Mountain along U.S. 74-A between Chimney Rock and Asheville, suddenly there they were. For over a quarter mile, the forest undergrowth was nothing but bushes covered with delicate pink and white leaves. I had never seen anything like it. Because I had company in the car, and because the hour was getting late, I didn’t stop, but this morning, I headed back up toward the crest of the Blue Ridge about a mile east of Gerton to document what I had found.  As I reached the 2,300 foot elevation, there it was, the pink forest.

Best Pink Leaves
I’ve researched the entire list of North Carolina shrubs and trees, but I have not been able to identify the plant that produces these remarkable colors. One reader of this blog believes that it is called a “Burning Bush”, very popular in the Western U.S., but not as well known in the mountains. That same reader commented that the leaves seemed to glow right at dusk. I’ll be returning there soon, at sundown. Most of the tall trees have already lost their fall plumage, which makes the pink hillsides all the more dramatic.

Pink Leaves and Rocks
Hickory Creek, barely visible at the bottom of this scene, runs along the road, and frames the painted woods above.

Pink Leaves Stream
As the sun broke through an almost solid cloud cover, Hickory Creek revealed itself as a stream surrounded by millions of changing leaves that looked more like Spring flowers.

Pink Leaves Floor
At first glance, the mountainside appears to be a sea of azaleas, but not in mid-November. This is my fifth autumn in the mountains, and I’ve never even heard of this place. Having the entire woods to myself, I doubt if anyone else has heard of it either.

Pink Leaves Hillside
Many of the pick leaves have already turned white, giving a mottled appearance to much of the display. The green moss on the river rocks really sets off the bright pick boughs.

Yellow and Pink Leaves
Walking over a rustic bridge into someone’s garden gave me a different perspective, and also let me see a yellow tree against the pink shrubs.

Pink Leaves Detail
By having one of the bushes in the foreground, I got a really good look at the detail of the individual leaves with the blanketed forest in the background. This is one place I’ll return to year after year after all of the other leaves have turned brown and blown away.

13 thoughts on “Rare Pink Foliage along the Blue Ridge

  1. How serendipitous! My husband and I were coming home to Lake Lure on Sat over the mountain and we’re thrilled to see the same forest of pink below. I first marveled at this sight about 12years ago and watch for it this time of the year each time we come that way. I believe the delicate and beautiful shrubs are actually the native or wild burning bush. Late in the day when the light is waning they truly glow. Thanks for the wonderful pictures.

    • Saundra, My research had found photos of the “Burning Bush” but everything pointed to a very common yard shrub, especially prolific in the western part of the country, and I was leery to accept that such a common Western plant would find such a home in the North Carolina mountains. Thank you for steering me in the right direction.

      • I absolutely love your photography! I am on the board for the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge and first came across your work when you posted pictures of it. Thank you for sharing your talent.

  2. Could these heavenly pink leafed shrubs be a wild or native variety of the burning bush? I’ve noticed them in mass in that area for the past 12 years, always this time of the year. The effect is one of pure awe!

  3. How beautiful is this! I don’t recall anything of this sort in S. WV as I was growing up (on the side of a 3000 ft. mountain)

    Thanks Patsy


  4. As Zac would say – “They’re not pink, they’re “lightish red” “. Beautiful color so late in November. Good find.


  5. I’m not sure the Burning bush is original to the Foothills and mountains BUT they are Beatiful INVASIVE Bushes that can and are Spread by Birds eating and Scattering Seeds (GREAT Photos of the under growth ) that changes colors later than the tall Oaks / Populars / Elms / Birch etc.

    • Thanks Bill… So far, the bushes seem to be confined to this small area near Gerton. Massachusetts and New Hampshire ban the sale of Burning Bush. It comes from China, Korea, and Japan. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

  6. I’ve seen this pink understory plant at least once before covering a fairly large area that I believe was around the Davidson River area near Brevard. The leaves and stems of the close up shot definitely look like something from the Euonymus (Burning Bush) family. Thanks for sharing these really amazing photos.

    • It seems that these bushes are pink because they get little or no sun beneath the forest canopy. Normally the Burning Bush is a much brighter red. That explains it. I have a feeling someone must have planted these in their yard in that area, and, being invasive, the birds spread the seed through the entire forest. Sure makes quite a statement….

  7. What an amazing find! Fantastic pictures. Your idea of them being leaves from the Burning Bush does make sense, birds were busy spreading the seeds and you got to see the glorious results. Loved the picture with the brook and the pick leaves. Thanks as always for sharing.

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