View up the trunk of a tree with autumn leaves
(Image credit: Standart / Getty Images)

One of the pleasures of life is watching the leaves of certain trees turn from the green of spring and summer to the fiery colors of fall. This change is caused by the green chlorophyll pigment breaking down in the cool weather and shorter days. Other pigments such as anthocyanin and xanthophyll are then revealed. Though many trees change color in the fall, some are more spectacular than others. Here are the top five:

Hickory Trees

There are several different kinds of hickory trees, and the pignut and shagbark hickory are known for their brilliant yellow, orange or golden brown fall foliage. The leaves of the pignut hickory turn yellow or orange. This tree is native to North America from Ontario to Alabama and is a favorite in botanical collections. It can grow to 90 feet tall. Like all hickories, it has leaflets arranged in pairs. The pignut hickory usually has five leaflets on a branch. The shagbark hickory is named for its gray, shaggy bark that can be harmlessly stripped away as the tree grows older. Like the pignut hickory, it can grow to 90 feet tall and has five leaflets on a branch. They are pointed, lanceolate with fine teeth. In the fall, the leaves turn a bright yellow or warm golden-brown. Besides beautiful foliage, this tree produces edible nuts. -placead-

Red Maple Trees

Red maple trees can grow to 120 feet tall and are prized for the fantastic red or red-gold of their fall foliage. Red maple trees not only have fall foliage but red flowers that open in very early spring before the leaves. This gives these trees a rubescent glow. Like most other maples, the red maple has opposite, lobed leaves, though the lobes are not as pronounced as they are in some other maples.

Sugar Maple Trees

Sugar maple trees provide both maple syrup and unmatched fall colors of scarlet, orange, and gold. When it's not being used for its sweet sap, the sugar maple is grown as an ornamental tree. It grows as tall as the red maple, and its flowers also appear before the leaves. Its leaves take their time falling from the tree as the months grow cooler, so the viewer is presented with great masses of flaming color.

Oak Trees

There are about 600 kinds of oak trees, and some of them have more magnificent fall color than others. Indeed, there are evergreen oaks. But the oak trees worth traveling for in the autumn include the scarlet oak. The long leaves of this tree, a native of North America, turn scarlet in the fall and cling to the tree for about six weeks before they finally drop. The long, deeply lobed leaves of the pin oak and Shumardi oak turn a rich burgundy in the fall, while the oval leaves of the Pontine oak turn an attractive medium brown. It's always a treat to get out in the woods in autumn. Enjoy the crisp air, and revel in the beauty of these trees and their fall foliage. Tammy Sons from Garden Plants Nursery in Tennessee expects to see lots of vibrant foliages in the trees of autumn due to all the rainfall they have had in the Tennessee valley this summer. Adequate rainfall is a must for trees to produce the optimal colors and this year she says the Smoky Mountains National Park will be a sight to see for those wanting to travel and see the beauty of fall foliage.