Fall foliage to vary throughout region

This graphic from www.iloveny.com shows a fall foliage report for the week of Sept. 19 through 26 (Photo submitted)

The fall foliage season could be highly variable around the region this year, as some areas deal with drought but others have had plenty of rain that will likely have an impact on when, or whether, we see vibrant colors.

The central and eastern Adirondacks have been dealing with a drought most of the spring and summer that will stress trees and could accelerate the process that results in leaves changing colors.

Foliage changes in Fulton and Montgomery counties, “typically peak around here about Columbus Day”— Oct. 8 this year, said Gina Dabiere-Gibbs, director of tourism for the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce.

She blogs weekly on the chamber’s Fulton and Montgomery county websites to keep the public apprised of the latest changes. Foliage is a tourism draw, and Dabiere-Gibbs ties that in to autumn events, such as apple picking and apple cider sales. Fall tourism represents 26 percent of the state’s annual tourism, second only to summer at 30 percent, according to Empire State Development.

Color changes are affected by latitude and altitude with leaves turning faster in Caroga Lake in Fulton County and slower in Montgomery County, she said.

The U.S. Drought Monitor’s weekly map showed much of Essex and Franklin counties in a severe drought as of late last week, with surrounding counties in moderate drought or “abnormally dry.” Those areas to the north got none of the rain that hit the Glens Falls area and points south early Tuesday.

That lack of water could cause leaves on some trees to dry up and fall off without much color.

Much of the southern Adirondacks has gotten more rain, but the warm, humid weather that has lingered for much of September seems to have delayed the annual slowdown of photosynthesis that results in the leaf die-off in shades of yellow, orange and red.

Peter Olesheski, a naturalist at Up Yonda in Bolton, said the annual turning of colors seems delayed this year, based on what he has seen around the southern Adirondacks.

“I’m looking up the hill here [at Up Yonda], and I am still seeing a lot of green,” he said Monday afternoon.

Olesheski said the delay could be more a result of perception of the fall season, since the last couple of years have seen foliage turn earlier than normal in much of the region. That would mean peak colors in early October.

“The last couple of years have been off a bit, and this year could be closer to normal,” he said. “Compared to the last few years, it’s going to seem like the leaves are changing late.”

Donald Leopold, a professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, said the colors should be good for much of the Adirondacks, based on the summer weather that brought sufficient rain to much of the region.

Trees stressed by either too much or too little water will turn first, Leopold explained. That’s why maple trees in swamps or other wet areas often show their red colors sooner than in many other locations.

Once colder weather arrives, foliage season will likely get going, he said.

“The colors will pop very quickly,” he said.

The state Department of Economic Development put out its first online foliage report of the season last week, showing that parts of the central and western Adirondacks were just seeing their first color changes, with about 10 percent change.

Eric Scheffel, a spokesman for I Love New York tourism, agreed the color changes seem to be slow to evolve this year, so far.

“It always changes, it’s just a matter of when,” he said. “It’s different every year.”

The report, updated weekly during the fall, can be found at www.iloveny.com/things-to-do/fall/foliage-report/.

Through Sept. 25, Dabiere-Gibbs expects 15 to 20 percent of trees in Fulton County to begin turning, bringing some dull touches of yellow and orange patches. Some brownish/reddish colors are also starting to show. Montgomery County trees are just starting to change.

Weather is a key player. “You need cold nights without freezes to get the best colors,” said Joe Cebulko, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albany.

He said both the high and low temperatures have been above normal for September.

Normally leaves are green because of the presence of chlorophyll, which is vital for plants to use sunlight to produce the sugar glucose to feed itself. As summer wanes into autumn, sunlight and chlorophyll production decrease, and plants prepare for winter. No longer masked by the green of chlorophyll, other pigments bring different colors that come to the fore–beta-carotene, giving an orange hue; anthocyanins, red; and flavonol, yellow.

Some species, such as maple, beech and aspen, are noted for their spectacularly bright fall color. Others, such as oak and chestnut, are less colorful.

Trees that lose their leaves with cold weather are called deciduous, from a Latin word that means “falling off.” Fallen leaves keep soil moist and decompose to recycle nutrients into the soil.

Evergreen trees have closely wrapped and waxy leaves that retain water and stay green year-round.

Don Lehman of The Post Star contributed to this report for The Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

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