Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fall Color

The foliage in the mountains was decent while it lasted, but the talk up there was about the lack of bright red this year. This in turn initiated a debate about whether it was because of too much rain or too little rain. In the meantime, both sides had absolutely no science to back there arguments up with. So I decided to find out once and for all what the real story is. According to Dr. Kim Coder, professor of silvics (n. 1. The science treating of the life of trees in the forest. 2. Habit or behavior of a forest tree.), at the University of Georgia, there are key predictors that can help determine leaf color.

Leaf volume
The more leaves there are attached to trees entering the fall season, the more there will be to look at.  A summer drought can limit the amount of leaves, but a wet summer can also set up disease and insects. So you have to hope for a moderately dry summer - like those perfect summers we get in Maine once every seven years, if we're lucky.

Healthy leaves
Healthy leaves stay attached to trees longer. Pest and environmental problems can damage and disrupt leaf surfaces so much that they actually detract from a quality of the color of each leaf. Unfortunately, the number of pests can be a result of both weather and temperature during the summer growing season. I would interpret this to mean that in Maine the color of leaves is always going to be a crapshoot, just like the summers are.

Temperature and precipitation
Cool nights with no freezes, or frosts and cool, bright, unclouded sunny days will enhance the the leaf color, but so do slightly dry conditions in the last half of the growing season and on into the fall. Once again I'm thinking that a good color year in Maine is about as likely as finding a three-legged robin.

Strong wind
Sounds obvious, but it always takes me a minute to realize there are no leaves on the trees when I'm wondering why there is no color out there. Because Maine is always experiencing some kind of wind event, we will probably never see a full blown bloom in our lifetimes.

Freezing temperatures and hard frosts
These conditions will stop the color formation of leaves dead in it's tracks - just like it does in us Mainers.

The only way to really predict foliage color is to keep a journal. But who has time for that? So I guess I will continue to treat fall like one of those wonderful mysteries in nature - as it should be perhaps.

Fall Color • 8"x 8" watercolor framed to 12"x 12" • $200

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