As I have observed that the leaves are beginning to slightly change color, I thought it might be a good time to take our annual look at this phenomenon, as well as what is behind it. This may seem a bit hackneyed, but I have been doing it for thirty four years, so why stop now?
You know, for many of us, this can be a somewhat depressing time of year. Summer loving people must cope with the end of their favorite season. That’s not easy. There are, though, a lot of good things about the season, and they don’t all involve hunting and fishing. For many outdoor photographers, this is what they’ve been waiting for. Admittedly, I’m not as into photography as I was as a younger man, even with the tremendous advances made in the field, but I still like to snap a few photos now and then.
Over the years, our area has become well known for its brilliant fall foliage. Already, the first signs of color are showing up. It might be fun to look at some of the causes of this extravaganza, and some of the trees which play a part in it. At the heart of the color changes are fall’s cooler temperatures and shorter periods of daylight. These cause the buildup of cells at the base of the leaf stem, which block the flow of nutrients between the leaf and the tree. Chlorophyll, which make the leaves green, is no longer produced. As the green fades, two chemicals, carotin and xanthophyll, which cause leaves to turn yellow, are unmasked. Red leaves, which are the most impressive to look at, occur only when the leaves contain certain sugars or tannins. The red color further depends a lot on sunny days and cold nights, which cause the blocking cells to form before these substances can drain away. In some years, early frosts kill the foliage. Also, a warm cloudy autumn can produce colors. Actually fall color can vary a lot from year to year in any one region.
Now, let’s look at some of the players in this panorama of nature. Among the first to change are the red maple, whose leaves, obviously, turn bright red, and the downy serviceberry. In fact, some have already turned bright red along the Allegheny River. After that, we see the bright yellow leaves of the tulip tree and the eastern Redbud. Also, the sugar maple’s leaves turn gold about the third week of fall. This is one of our best known trees. Depending on location, these trees can also turn bright red. The oak and ash trees wrap up the show each year. In this area, the most common ash is the white ash.
Sometimes, when you live in an area, you have a tendency to take its beauty for granted. The fact is that many people travel long distances to enjoy the leaves along the Allegheny.
Other signs of fall are appearing, too. Flocks of migrating wild geese are starting to appear, and some familiar songbirds have vanished. The night sounds have changed, too, and, for that matter, some of the nights are now downright chilly. Before long, the furnaces will be coming on.
For all its beauty, there’s one major bad thing about fall, which came in last week, and that’s that winter is just around the corner. We had better enjoy the nice weather we have left.