Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) is often cited as a good alternative to burning bush, a common shrub that’s become an invasive pest in much of the Northest. The New York Times described the plant in a 2007 article as “less lurid than burning bush, but equally reliable as an autumn color machine,” adding that “the luscious reds and purples usually stay on the plant until the weather turns bitter.” The small shrub also features fragrant white flowers that give it its name.
Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is more cold-tolerant than the slightly more common red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), and its fall foliage tends more toward purple. This compact and petite shrub bears glossy black fruit on upright stems; Sunset calls them a “tough, undemanding” plant “useful as fillers or background plantings.”
Black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), also known as sour gum, black gum or pepperidge, is a slow-growing medium-size tree that Sunset calls “among the best native trees for consistent, blazing fall color.” Its foliage ranges from yellow to orange before settling on a vibrant red in autumn. Female trees bear small olive-like fruit that can attract birds.
Stellar dogwood (Cornus rutgersensis) is a hybrid cultivar of the tree that Sunset calls “the most beautiful native tree of North America.” These medium-size trees offer the showy flowers and brilliant red fall foliage of the Eastern dogwood without the disease and pest problems that plague the native variety.
Japanese stewartia (Stewartia psueducamellia) is described by Better Homes & Gardens as a “top-notch tree” with all-season interest that produces a fall show of light reddish-orange foliage that darkens to purple or bronze.
Darker fall foliage may not catch the eye as readily as its brighter counterparts, but purple hues can offer contrast to the fall landscape.