Fall Color Report: Week of September 19, 2010
Summer officially ends this Tuesday, and your fall color prognosticators are geared up again to begin reporting on this year's fall display in the North Carolina Mountains. We have formed an informal Fall Color Prognostication Society (FCPS) in order to better cover the mountains in North Carolina, from the Virginia border in the north, to Murphy and Joyce Kilmer in the far southern regions of our state. Our membership includes Dr. Jim Costa, Director of the Highlands Biological Station in Highlands, Drs. Kathy Mathews and Beverly Collins, both in the Biology Department at Western Carolina, Dr. Jonathan Horton, in the Biology Department at UNC-Asheville, Mr. Jesse Pope, Chief Naturalist and Education Specialist at Grandfather Mountain, and myself, Dr. Howard Neufeld, from the Biology Department at Appalachian State University. Each week, we'll summarize the fall color situation, make predictions about when colors will peak and how good they will be, as well as provide you with beautiful places to see and experience in the mountains of western North Carolina.
The recent weather trend of sunny days and cool nights has the FCPS in agreement that we should have good fall color this year. However, because this past summer was the warmest on record, it may be difficult to estimate its impact on fall color, since nothing like it has ever happened before. This year will be a learning experience for us all!
So, how are the trees doing so far? In the Boone area, red and sugar maples started turning yellow/orange in late August, and many are well into their color displays. Flowering dogwoods are already peaking with their burgundy-red leaves. Some tulip poplars and birches are turning yellow, which is early for them. Poison ivy and Virginia creeper are already brilliant orange and red. At higher elevations, beech leaves are turning a shiny brown while sugar maples are showing yellow and orange colors. Viburnum leaves at Elk Knob State Park are turning a rich purple-red color in the understory, which is quite spectacular to see. However, the dominant color on the landscape is still green, with just a hint of orange/yellow and red at higher elevations.
At Grandfather Mountain, Jesse Pope reports that colors are just starting to pop out at the higher elevations now. American ash, red and sugar maples, and some of the birches above 5,000' are starting to show. The heath balds are starting to show some colors from the Vacciniums and sourwoods, especially along the flank of Grandfather above the Blue Ridge Parkway. By next Friday there should be some good colors to talk about at the higher elevations, with the widespread peak around the second weekend in October (9th -10th).
Moving further south, Jonathan Horton reports that the dogwood, sourwood and sumac are all turning red from the Cheoah region, then on north to Asheville and Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Tulip poplars are either turning yellow or going directly to brown, while at higher elevations, the birch and maple are starting to turn yellow.
In Cullowhee, it's still in the mid-80s there and there hasn't been much color change, according to Kathy Mathews. Dogwood and sourwood are just starting to turn red while sweet birches are turning yellow along the roadsides. Kathy notes that early color change always seems to happen along roadsides for some reason. However, if you look at the mountain webcams in this neck of the woods (Mt. Mitchell, Cold Mountain, Purchase Knob) you don't see any color change in the high peaks, except just a hint of rust color in some of the trees at Purchase Knob at 5,000'. Beverly Collins reports similar color development in the Franklin area, but also reports that walnuts and black locusts are turning yellow and dropping their leaves.
Jim Costa reports that Fall is very much in the air at Highlands. Sourwoods are definitely turning, as are the dogwoods and Virginia creeper. Some sourwoods are a vibrant red already, while others are still predominantly greenish. Silverbells are turning a nice yellow, but most are still green.
In conclusion, the mountains are just beginning their annual color change, with some hints of color now appearing above 4,500', and some individual trees well into their color change even down to 3,000'. But the dominant appearance is still one of green forests, and good fall color is still at least two weeks away. However, there is a suggestion that fall colors might be early by a few days this year, perhaps a lingering after effect of our record warm summer, so be prepared.
As usual, there are an abundance of places to drive to see good fall color, such as the Blue Ridge Parkway just about anywhere, Highway 64 between Brevard and Highlands, U.S. Highway 441 into and over Great Smoky Mountains National Park, plus many others. We'll include more details on where to see fall colors in our report next week, when color development will be further along. For more information on fall leaf color, including the science behind fall color, you can check out my fall color page at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors/ and my blog at http://www.fallcolorguy.blogspot.com . Happy Fall Color Viewing this year from your fall color prognosticators!!