Last weekend during the Labor Day Holiday I was visiting my son and his wife near Atlanta. While I was there, we all hiked up to the top of Kennesaw Mountain in the National Battlefield to take in the views and check out the plants. As you might expect in metro-Atlanta, there weren’t any signs of fall leaf color yet, and what surprised me was that the visitor center had azaleas in full bloom! If you haven’t been to this national monument, it is worth the trip. The hike to the top is not too rigorous and you get a great view of the Atlanta skyline, Buckhead and Stone Mountain. Confederate troops were trying to hold positions on this mountain to keep General Sherman from marching to Atlanta, but they were overcome and Atlanta fell shortly thereafter. Hard to imagine, but the population of Atlanta in 1860 was just 7,700 and when it fell was around 20,000. Today the city has a population of 523,738 while the metro area has over 6 million!
A cool front moved through the south just as the holiday weekend started, lowering the humidity (yeh!!) and temperatures (double yeh!). In fact, the drop in temperature in the High Country was enough to kick-start some street maples (Acer rubrum) to begin changing colors, along with Virginia creeper vine (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), sourwood trees (Oxydendrum arboretum) and burning bushes (Euonymous alatus). However, trees in the forests outside of town are still mostly green right now. Urban trees, which may originate from outside the southeast, generally turn colors before the forest trees do.
Sourwood trees are one of my favorite fall color trees. They are very common in the Southern Appalachian Mountains and their leaves turn a deep red which lasts a fairly long time into the fall. Their white seed capsules splay down against the red foliage, giving this tree a very distinctive look unlike any other in our forests. The name sourwood derives from the fact that the leaves have a very bitter taste, although some people use them to make a tea, despite the fact that they can act as a laxative! It is favored by beekeepers who prize the honey made from the sourwood flowers. Although it might be hard to believe, this tree is in the same family as blueberries (Ericacae).
We’ve had moderate temperatures this week with abundant rainfall (it poured here last night and has been drizzling all day today). However, it is supposed to clear up in a few days and temperatures are supposed to drop some. If that happens, that will further stimulate the trees to begin changing colors, and we could have an excellent fall color season that is on time. If it remains warm and wet, then we might expect a delay in peak color time and perhaps duller reds.
An on-time fall color season means peak colors in the Blowing Rock to Grandfather Mt. section of the Blue Ridge Parkway around mid-October (12-18th), earlier at higher elevations such as at Craggy Gardens north of Asheville, and Graveyards and Waterrock south of Asheville. Peak times would also occur in mid-October along the northern section of the Parkway going into Virginia, especially in Doughton Park. Lower elevations peak about a week later for every 1000’ decrease in elevation.
If you are planning day trips on the Parkway you’ll need to know where there are open restrooms and visitor centers. You can find that information by going to this website: https://www.blueridgeparkway.org/covid-19-update/.
Next week I’ll be visiting some of the higher elevation sites toward Asheville, including Craggy Gardens and Mt. Mitchell. I’ll report on those next weekend. Have a save and healthy week! Be wise – wear a mask and stay socially distanced this fall = remember, your precautions could save the lives of others and keep you safe also!
To see my posted photos, please go to this link: