Past 2012 Fall Color Reports
Miss one of North Carolina’s 2012 Fall Color Reports? No problem! You can find all of the past reports here.
October 31st Weekly Report - Mountains
In the years that I have been reporting on fall color, hurricane-induced snowstorms have rarely been an issue. Now come the combined forces of Hurricane Sandy and a cold front from the upper Midwest. Forecasters expect significant accumulations of snow for the southern Appalachians all the way down to Asheville — 15 inches at the highest elevations and 6 inches in Boone — and high winds gusting over 60 mph. If that doesn’t take down the last of the leaves, nothing will!
Even before this storm, most of the leaves had already fallen from elevations above 2,500 feet. Only a few oaks and beeches, species that tend to hold on to their leaves longer than most others, were clinging to their burgundy red or chocolate brown leaves. Overall, this was a relatively short fall color season at higher elevations (and somewhat duller in color). Colors at lower elevations have been better in some locations.
Jonathan Horton in Asheville reports that the storm’s arrival coincides with good color around Marion, Morgantown and Old Fort. The gusting winds might take down most of those leaves before conditions clear later this week. The big storm also intrudes on an explosion of vibrant leaf colors at the higher elevations of Chimney Rock and Lake Lure. Before the storm, Matt Popowski predicted that the lower elevations would peak during the first week of November with color likely continuing into the second week.
A quick check of several other state parks (Crowders Mountain, Gorges, South Mountains and Table Rock) finds that the color peaks have passed, with my contacts in Gorges and South Mountains reporting nearly leafless trails. I hope you were able to get up here during periods of good weather to check out the fall foliage displays.
October 31st Weekly Report - Piedmont
The collision of Hurricane Sandy with a cold front is expected to bring an early end to this year’s fall color season. Most of the Piedmont reached peak coloration late last week. The Raleigh area and points east hovered around 75 percent color, but high winds and temperatures in the freezing range might cut the coloration process short.
As the storm approached, Dave Cook at Hanging Rock State Park and Josh Hemric of Pilot Mountain State Park said landscapes were awash in color and added that leaf fall was apparently accelerating. Catawba Science Center in Hickory reported that many leaves had fallen and that most color was past peak. In certain areas, Blackgum, dogwood and Smooth Sumac had changed from crimson to a maroon/purple, with some ornamentals such as Crepe Myrtle retaining green but dappled with golden yellow, red and orange.
To the south in Mecklenburg County, McDowell Nature Center reported that color was past peak and that gold was the color everywhere. Certain trees that were still green such as individual Red Maples and American Beech abruptly turned yellow. “We are heading into the down side of fall now,” Bryan England said. “Persimmon trees are mostly bare, exposing their orange fruits, and Blackgum trees have shed most of their leaves.”
Deborah Robertson of Blue Jay Point County Park noted the beautiful red and red/purple of maple and Sweetgum painting the landscape. She said the foliage was especially nice around Falls Lake and through the park. However, the remnants of Hurricane Sandy may bring an end to the color season throughout the Piedmont.
This year’s leaf season was impressive for the brilliant yellow gold of Tulip Poplars and maples, but in general seemed less than average for the deep reds, maroons and purples we’ve seen in past years. Although these deeper colors are never in great abundance in the Piedmont, they were more poorly represented in fall 2012.
Excluding the eastern Piedmont, reports from observers suggest that peak conditions occurred earlier this year compared to fall 2011. Last year, peak conditions were reported around Nov. 7 from most of our area with good viewing extending well into the second week. Conditions that hastened peak coloration this year are anyone’s guess. But with Hurricane Sandy leaving its mark, we can only hope for minimal damage to our communities and forest resources.
October 24th Weekly Report - Mountains
You know the dictum — it’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature. Last week I said it was probably peak color time for the Boone to Grandfather Mountain area. But I was wrong, to say the least! After a drive off the mountain Saturday, Mother Nature surprised me by bringing out the brilliant reds from the red maples and oaks, contrasting them against the bright yellows of late turning sugar maples. This combination brought out the colors all along the eastern flank of the mountains, from Ashe County down to Linville Falls.
Given the mostly calm and sunny weather expected this week, these colors will persist to the weekend. Note that the best color viewing is either early in the morning or just before dusk, when the sun is at a low angle. Those are also the best times to take photos of the leaves. I saw good color all the way down into the foothills and as far as Wilkesboro and beyond, but the intensity of colors is much better closer to the mountains at elevations between 1,500 and 3,000 feet.
Many trees above 3,000 feet have lost leaves; especially the tulip poplars and some of the early turning maples and birches, but enough trees remain with leaves to make a trip up here worth the effort. You will especially like the views off the Blue Ridge Parkway of the leaves at lower elevations, where the colors are reaching their peak now.
Joe Tolley took this early morning shot of the Smoky Mountains Oct. 17 near Balsam on the way to Waterrock Knob.
Matt Popowski gives us weekly updates from Chimney Rock: “ Just in the past couple days some nice yellows and oranges have appeared on the tops of mountain peaks around Chimney Rock and Lake Lure. Bright, colorful foliage is visible along major driving routes, offering a stunning drive to Chimney Rock. The poplars are a vibrant gold now, and the sourwoods, dogwoods and sassafras have turned red in the Park.” Although there is still a lot of green, “ Chimney Rock’s fall colors should continue to brighten dramatically over the next couple weeks.”
October 24th Weekly Report - Piedmont
The past week represents a transforming period for fall colors in the North Carolina Piedmont. With one exception, our days have been filled with bright, warm sunshine, followed by nighttime temperatures in the low to mid-40s. This week’s forecast calls for much of the same. These conditions are perfect for the development of fall foliage.
Shawn McEntee captured this shot of early fall color at High Point’s City Lake Park Friday, Oct. 19, 2012.
South of the Triad near Charlotte lies Lake Norman with more than 500 miles of beautiful shoreline. Falls Lake and Jordan Lake near Raleigh and Durham are easily accessible with parks lining their extensive shorelines. The reservoirs provide uninterrupted vistas and forested shorelines that are great destinations for fall viewing.
For driving tours from the Greensboro–High Point–Winston-Salem area, head south on N.C. 109 toward Denton and look for S.R. 1154 or Mullinix Road in the Uwharrie National Forest. From here follow the signs to Badin Lake Recreation Area. Another nice driving tour off N.C. 109 is S.R. 49 to 220 and on to Asheboro. North of the Triad, try U.S. 52 from Winston-Salem toward Mount Airy and Pilot Mountain, or S.R. 65 and 89 toward Hanging Rock. Both routes offer scenic, rural landscapes.
Head Naturalist Bruce Beerbower from Catawba Science Center in Hickory writes that there are many shades of yellow to gold showing in hickory, Tulip Poplar, Hackberry, Sugar Maple and Mountain Magnolia. The pink, red and crimson in Sourwood, Poison Ivy and Virginia Creeper are brilliant in the bright sunshine. Bruce notes that some areas are at 70 percent color while others are past peak or lagging a little behind. Most areas in the western Piedmont should peak in the next week. For a nice drive from the Hickory area, take N.C. 127 North into Alexander County, then follow U.S. 64 West to Lenoir. In Lenoir connecting with U.S. 321 North will take you toward Boone, while 321 South returns to Hickory.
Pilot Mountain State Park is beginning to blaze with color. Ranger Josh Hemric reports that most of the mountain is at 70 percent color with the summit at peak coloration. Maples are showing off nicely with lots of orange and red. Hickory and Chestnut Oak are golden yellow with some trimmed in brown. These brown pigments are from tannins that are trapped in the leaves. Sourwoods and Flowering Dogwoods are very nice right now with their deep red and scarlet foliage. A nice drive for visiting Pilot Mountain State Park is U.S. 52 North to exit 134, where you turn left onto S.R. 268. Follow 268 to Shoals Road, where a left turn ends at the community of Shoals. If you can, visit Pilot Mountain State Park during the week as parking is limited and weekends tend to be busy.
Hanging Rock State Park Superintendent Dave Cook believes that this year is proving to be an exceptional year for fall foliage, with most species expressing color at the same time. He also notes that weather events have not stripped many leaves from the trees. Hanging Rock is around 50 percent with a beautiful mix of red, yellow and orange. Viewing should be excellent through the first week of November. Several loop roads around the park, including Moore Spring, Hall and Mickey roads, permit good viewing opportunities. Numerous rural state routes around Hanging Rock such as 66, 89 and 65 are also very nice for admiring fall colors.
From the Raleigh–Durham–Chapel Hill area comes a report from Deborah Robertson of Blue Jay Point County Park. In this eastern section of the Piedmont, Deborah estimates color at 25 percent with lots of yellow and gold coming from Tulip Poplars and Southern Sugar maples. Deborah estimates that this week’s conditions will start to produce more red from Flowering Dogwood and Sourwood. A drive through the park, or north on Six Forks Road across the bridge to Upper Barton Creek Boat Ramp, provides scenic views of Falls Lake and its forested shoreline. The eastern Piedmont and points south will be the last sections to develop peak coloration.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg area boasts lovely color right now at about 50 percent, but still has a little way to go to reach peak conditions. Bryan England at McDowell Nature Center draws attention to the yellow and gold of Tulip Poplar, Persimmon, Sassafras and some Sweetgums. Bright sunshine should add deeper reds, purples and scarlet shades from Sourwood, Flowering Dogwood, sumac and Blackgum. A suggested driving tour follows N.C. 24/27 east toward Albemarle, or visit Crowders Mountain and South Mountains state parks, then choose any number of beautiful rural routes such as N.C. 274 North from Bessemer City, or N.C. 18, N.C. 10 and N.C. 226.
Take some time and visit the state’s many beautiful and varied parks, greenways and reservoirs. This week will create the perfect opportunity to enjoy the fall season in the Piedmont.
October 17th Weekly Report - Mountains
This was the peak fall color weekend for the Blowing Rock to Grandfather Mountain region, and fall foliage along the Blue Ridge Parkway was brilliant and awe-inspiring. I think the leaf color will last through this week to the upcoming weekend. If you are planning to come up this week or next weekend, there should still be color in this area of the High Country, even though it may be slightly past peak. There are still many green trees starting to turn, so colors should persist for a while. For example, oaks are just now starting to turn, and they bring nice deep rust red colors to the landscape.
On Saturday, I took a long drive from Boone all the way down to Asheville, then back along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Asheville proper has not yet peaked, and there is still plenty of green there, which will turn in the next 10 days. As you progress north on the Parkway from Asheville, colors become more vibrant as elevation increases, peaking around 4,000 feet. Craggy Gardens offers some great views and easy hiking, but note that at this elevation (more than 5,700 feet) the colors are past their peak. But with the colors coming out in lower locations, the views from there are tremendous, and I still recommend taking the drive up to this spot.
Photographer Benanne Stiens captured this shot at the Craggy Flats Tunnel on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville Oct. 13, 2012.
However, to be truthful (and I report the colors as I see them), the fall foliage display this year is not as vibrant or intense as in past years. The reds, while apparent in patches here and there, are duller than usual, resulting in a yellow/orange cast to this year’s display. Some trees turned early this year and two storms knocked leaves off just as they were reaching their most intense color (mainly birches and maples). Also, oaks, which are traditionally late turners, seem even more behind this year, which is why many locations still have colors mixed with green. That being said, I still think it’s worth the drive up to the mountains to see the colors - this is still nature’s best color display, even if it’s not a 10 this year.
Colors look good in and around Mount Mitchell, but between there and Linville, where the Parkway dips down lower, colors go back to pre-peak conditions, with lots of green hanging around. Colors pick up, as I noted above, in the Grandfather to Blowing Rock area, and continue on up to the Virginia border. Some of my readers inform me that down by Highlands/Cashiers colors are about the same as they are in the Boone area, which means they are near peak in that area.
Matt Popowski from Chimney Rock State Park reports, “The Chimney Rock area overall still has a lot of green” and some leaves are turning around the Chimney level. He also writes that the “tulip poplar trees are turning gold and the sourwoods are a nice red.” During the next week he expects more color in the dogwoods, buckeyes, birch, beech, walnuts and sassafras with peak colors there in a couple of weeks, when “the oaks and hickories are at their most vibrant.”
October 10th Weekly Report - Mountains
While this past Saturday was beautiful, and hopefully people enjoyed the fall colors in the High Country, Sunday turned cloudy, rainy and cool. But weather reports look very promising for a sunny end to the week and cool, clear days on the weekend, all the way from the Smokies to the Virginia border. That’s good, because the colors in the Highlands/Cashiers and Boone areas are going to peak by midweek, and those colors will persist through the weekend. So if you’re thinking of heading to the mountains to see the foliage, this week and weekend look to be a good bet.
The birches have really come on this past week, providing a yellow highlight to the forests, and the tulip poplars are starting to yellow up also, though they tend to lag behind the birches. Beeches have also started yellowing, but they soon turn to brown, as do the magnolias and chestnut sprouts. Sugar Maples continue their progression toward orange and yellow, turning first on the outside of the crown, with the colors working their way inward with time. Interestingly, tulip poplars turn in an opposite manner, from the inside out. Why some trees turn from the inside out and others from the outside in is one of the mysteries of fall leaf color.
Red maples, red oaks, sourwoods, dogwoods, Virginia Creeper and blueberries are all giving the forests the red accent that most people agree makes for great fall color. If the maples and oaks do well this year, we should have an exceptional season. We’ll know this week if that will happen.
A view of peak color at Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway taken by RomanticAsheville.com Travel Guide the morning of Oct. 10, 2012.
Colors have peaked at higher elevations, such as Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell and Roan Mountain, and the quality looks pretty good. Around Blowing Rock at Bass and Price Lakes, colors are also very vibrant now, perhaps some of the best along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Craggy Gardens, Mount Pisgah and Graveyard Fields are reported to be at their peaks and should be excellent this week. The southern end of the Parkway, though, has not yet peaked, so reserve a trip there for later.
This is the week to take in the foliage at high elevations, so for scenic drives, head upward. The Cherohala Skyway in Robbinsville is a good bet, as is the Blue Ridge Parkway from Cherokee, past Maggie Valley, then on to Graveyard Fields at milepost 418. Craggy Gardens is a favorite spot, as is the Linn Cove Viaduct just north of Grandfather Mountain. Doughton Park at milepost 340 should be looking good these days and is a great place for hikes, as is Mount Mitchell State Park. Also, check out the various apple cider/honey stands along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s time for North Carolina apples!
RomanticAsheville.com Travel Guide took this great fall color photo of Linville Falls Oct. 6, 2012. Peak color is expected this week.
October 10th Weekly Report - Piedmont
This week’s color report brings attention to the higher elevations of the Piedmont and to the western border it shares with the mountainous Blue Ridge Province. Cooler temperatures in these areas have pushed the fall season a little further ahead, and the differences are apparent.
Bruce Beerbower from Catawba Science Center in Hickory says, “Foliage is finally starting to change in the western Piedmont.” Golden-yellow is beautiful right now in Sycamore, Hackberry, Silver and Sugar Maples, and French Mulberry. Red, scarlet and purple shades are starting to show up in Sumac, Flowering Dogwood, Red Maple, Blackberry and Sourwood. Color is estimated to range from 20 percent to 25 percent.
Hanging Rock State Park, with an elevation of 2,579 feet, is hovering around 15 percent color with the reds of Flowering Dogwood, blackgum and Sourwood starting to peak, said Superintendent Dave Cook. Red Maples are also beginning to “put on a show” with peak color predicted for Oct. 21 to Nov. 12.
To the west of Hanging Rock stands the distinctive summit of Pilot Mountain. Rising to 2,420 feet, Pilot Mountain State Park offers beautiful views of the Yadkin River flowing far below the pinnacle. Park Ranger Josh Hemric sends word that “things are progressing pretty good here at Pilot.” The top third of the mountain is showing nice orange, red, yellow and purple color right now with maples, Flowering Dogwoods, Chestnut Oaks, hickory and Sourwoods around the summit. Lower portions still remain green and will transform to lovely fall color in the next week to 10 days. Driving routes will be suggested in next week’s report.
The rest of the Piedmont is expressing muted yellow and gold from Tulip Poplars, some leaves of Red Maple, Persimmon and hickory. This yellow landscape will be punctuated with deeper reds, pinks and purples over the next week as cooler temperatures and sunny days become more consistent.
Not much change has been noted by Deborah Robertson at Blue Jay Point County Park in Wake County. The eastern Piedmont is primarily yellow with Tulip Poplars, Red Maples and elm, and will be the last section to fully transition to fall. South of Raleigh and straddling the fall line separating the Piedmont from the Coastal Plain are the Sandhills. An interesting place to visit is Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve in Southern Pines. Ranger-Naturalist Kim Hyer states that later in the fall Turkey and Blackjack Oaks will turn an eye-catching red, but for now enjoy the deep blue Fall Gentian wildflowers that are now in bloom. The Sandhills is an enchanting but often overlooked area of our beautiful state.
From Mecklenburg County in the south, Bryan England at McDowell Nature Center says lower temperatures have resulted in a little more color, mostly the gold and yellow pigments known as xanthophylls. These colors are always present in leaves but hidden by the dominant green chlorophyll, and are revealed as chlorophyll disappears. Red and purple pigments, called anthocyanins, are actually manufactured by the leaf in the fall from trapped sugar, and the process is hastened by lower temperatures at night followed by sunny days. Earlier rainfall may have been good, but now we need continued drier conditions to also help bring about a colorful fall season. The best is yet to come.
October 3rd Weekly Report - Mountains
After driving around the mountains this week, I feel comfortable saying that the timing of peak color for this year should be on schedule with past years. Although some trees turned early this year (dogwoods, sourwoods and maples), the rest of the trees seem to be progressing at their usual pace, and based on what I saw this weekend, I think the colors will peak between next weekend and the following one, putting them right on their usual schedule.
Photographer Rick Anderson took this Sept. 28, 2012 shot of fall color at Second Falls and Graveyard Fields from an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
For the Boone area, I notice that there are patches of good color here and there, but most of the slopes are still primarily green. However, color is showing up more and more each day. By next weekend I think color will be well along, even peaking above 3,500-foot elevation, such as at Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell, and other high peaks. I have a report that down by Highlands, the trees are also progressing at about the same pace, although they may be slightly behind the Boone area, but not by much.
I took a hike through the Mount Jefferson State Natural Area, just outside West Jefferson in Ashe County. There was good color on a few slopes, particularly those in a cold-air drainage, while off in the distance the hills were beginning to turn from green to yellow and orange. Birches have picked up this week and are turning bright yellow. Burning bush (Euonymus alata) is reaching its peak burgundy red now, as are high and low bush blueberries. The once majestic American chestnut, whose sprouts are quite common in this natural area, is turning yellow followed by a nice chocolate brown. Maples are showing a variety of colors, from yellow to orange to red, often all within one leaf. Scarlet oaks are beginning to turn deep burgundy, while beeches are turning yellow then bronze at higher elevations. Sassafras is also turning now, and one can find leaves of just about any color, from yellow all the way to red, on the same tree.
I highly recommend taking Route 194 South, starting just south of West Jefferson on U.S. 221, over to Todd. This is one of North Carolina’s scenic byways and is a wonderful way to see great fall colors and rural landscapes without all the traffic one gets on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is also the general store in Todd should you want to stop and get something to eat or to buy a T-shirt. Another destination is Satulah Mountain, just outside Highlands. If you take U.S. 64 South from Highlands to Franklin (the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway) you’ll encounter a number of beautiful falls in the Cullasaja Gorge, including Dry Falls, which you can walk behind.
VisitNC.com has a great listing of scenic drives, plus summaries of the history of the areas as well as maps. Remember, colors start earliest at the higher elevations and then work their way downslope each week. For more information, don’t forget to check my Fall Color Facebook page and my Appalachian State University page, where you can also read about the science of fall colors. Happy and safe driving!
October 3rd Weekly Report - Piedmont
The fall season is in a holding pattern throughout much of the North Carolina Piedmont. While Roadside Sourwoods and Flowering Dogwoods are showing slightly deeper purples and reds, foliage of Red Maples along our highways and woods’ edges are beginning to turn light pink, rose and orange. Mixing it up in these same habitats are the red leaves of a few species of sumac. Things are changing, but slowly.
From McDowell Nature Center in Mecklenburg County comes a report from Bryan England, who says the forest at the nature center remains “solidly green.” A few Sourwoods and Flowering Dogwoods are standing out with flaming red leaves, and the “beginnings of a turn toward red and yellow can be detected in additional species including Tupelo, Persimmon, Black Cherry and Winged Elm.” Foliage otherwise remains as it appeared the week before.
Few changes also are noted from Pilot Mountain State Park. Ranger Josh Hemric says that besides some attractive purple Sourwoods, little change has taken place this past week. Our weather has remained fairly consistent with daytime temperatures ranging in the 70s and low 80s, and the nights have been dropping into the upper 50s and low 60s. Cooler weather will trigger more changes as the fall season progresses.
Looming over the Piedmont Plateau at 2,579 feet, Hanging Rock State Park is about 30 miles north of Winston-Salem. Having gained roughly 2 percent over last week’s report, Park Superintendent Dave Cook states that the park is hovering around 4 percent color with red from Flowering Dogwood, Sourwood and a few early Red Maples.
If you are lucky enough to stumble upon the native shrub American Beauty Berry in our forests, you’ll delight in seeing the bright purple berries that hang in bunches hugging the stem. These small berries are edible but lack any real flavor. Always appearing in the fall, these jewel-like fruits help brighten our Piedmont woodlands. Muscadine and Fox Grapes, red dogwood berries, Bush Honeysuckle fruit and others are also signs of the early season.
Vast changes in the landscape wait around the corner. Dropping the temperatures and adding bright, sunny days will transition our forests and roadsides into brilliant color. We’ll watch as autumn pushes its way into central North Carolina.
September 26th Weekly Report - Mountains
I’m happy to report that fall color is now showing up on most mountain slopes in the High Country. The hills are still mostly green, but just driving on the roads, or hiking on mountain trails, you can see the beginnings of fall color dotting the slopes. As expected, the best-developed color is at the higher elevations, especially above Stack Creek on the eastern flank of Grandfather Mountain. This one ridge always peaks early each season, but it also has some of the most spectacular color each year. Something about that ridge causes the colors to be vibrant every year. It’s easily seen from vantages off the Parkway and from the northern rock outcrop on Beacon Hill (or from the parking lot too).
Sourwoods continue to turn red, while maples are changing yellow/orange and red. High bush blueberries are turning a deep red while sassafras is just starting to turn its usual mixture of orange/yellow/red. Birches are dropping a lot of leaves early for some reason, but those remaining are yellowing up. Fraser magnolias are beginning to change from green to their usual yellow followed by a changeover to chocolate brown. Most other trees are still mainly green.
I saw good color this Sunday along the Parkway between Linville and Blowing Rock. If you hike around Price Lake next weekend (a flat and easy two miles) you should be rewarded with much better color. Our weather has turned perfect for good fall color: cool mornings and sunny days, the perfect duo! This Monday, the low is supposed to be in the mid 30s! As long as it stays above freezing, we’ll be ok. My feeling is that colors will peak at their usual times this season; mid-October in the Boone and Highlands areas and the third week of October in the Asheville area and other lower elevation locations.
For some great drives this coming week, consider roads that take you high up in elevation, where the color develops first. One great drive is the Blue Ridge Parkway north from U.S. 421 to Laurel Springs and points north up past Bluff Mountain and Doughton Park. Another good drive is the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway, which starts at U.S. 276 in Waynesville, and goes for about 79 miles (you don’t have to drive all of it to see great fall color). This road traverses some high elevations and is great for viewing early fall leaf displays.
A great resource for drives is the NCDOT’s Scenic Byway Book, which has 54 scenic drives in the state. VisitNC.com also has a great listing of scenic drives, plus summaries of the history of the areas as well as maps. Remember, colors start earliest at the higher elevations and then work their way downslope each week. For more information, don’t forget to check my Fall Color Facebook page and my Appalachian State University page, where you can also read about the science of fall colors. Happy and safe driving!
September 26th Weekly Report - Piedmont
Following one of the hottest summers on record, the North Carolina Piedmont is looking forward to a beautiful fall season. While June and the first three weeks of July set record temperatures, the summer heat wave began to moderate and the second half of the season saw slightly above average conditions. How these early record-breaking temperatures might influence fall color is anyone’s guess. But, recent rainfall will help reduce stress and promote a more gradually developing fall. In past years, this kind of process seemed to have benefitted color development in the Piedmont. We’ll wait and see. Although our forests and roadside trees remain predominantly green, daytime temperatures in the 70s with nights dipping into the low 50s have opened the door to the autumn season.
A few widely scattered Flowering Dogwoods exposed along Piedmont roadsides and at the edges of forested landscapes are starting to show rosy foliage. Sourwoods are already sporting purple leaves. These Sourwoods are especially nice as they still have the remains of their drooping yellow racemes, or flower stems. While you wait for fall foliage to develop, enjoy our many rural Piedmont roadsides which are now clothed in bright yellow from the flowers of goldenrod, coreopsis, Tick Seed Sunflower and other various asters. Bryan England reporting from McDowell Nature Center in Charlotte reminds visitors of the beautiful blooming goldenrod, Schweinitz’s Sunflower with patches of Blazing Star and False Foxglove, currently in flower at the center.
Superintendent Dave Cook at Hanging Rock State Park in the north central Piedmont says the park is still quite green, with perhaps 2 percent color seen in the blackgum and dogwood understory. In the western portion of the province, Alan Barnhardt and Bruce Beerbower from Catawba Science Center near Hickory comment on the purples, yellows and reds seen in slowly changing Sourwood, Tulip Poplar and Flowering Dogwood. Tulip Poplar is one of the first species to begin changing usually in mid-August, and this year was no exception. Their yellow leaves will contribute nicely to the changing landscape as fall progresses.
Where temperatures are cooler and exposure is greater, fall colors will first attain prominence at the higher elevations of our monadnock state parks such as Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain. As the season develops, the autumn landscape will creep down mountainsides and wash over lower elevations. Fall will also invade the Piedmont along our western border. It is a fascinating process to watch as the natural world responds to decreasing daylight and temperatures. Stay tuned as we follow these changes and recommend areas to visit for greater appreciation of our Piedmont fall season.
September 19th Weekly Report - Mountains
This report marks our first official leaf color predictions for fall 2012 in the North Carolina mountains. From this week forward my fellow prognosticators and I will report on how the leaves are coloring up for the season.
Many of you have asked if this year’s record warmth will affect leaf color this fall. Since the numbers are unprecedented, we don’t have anything on which to base predictions. What I can say is that we have not had any severe drought, which is good, and that the weather has shifted noticeably cooler, with warm sunny days, and all these conditions are conducive to good color. So this far ahead, I predict a good year for fall leaf color, assuming the weather continues to cooperate during the next few weeks.
That said, my colleagues and I have noticed some unusual patterns. Dogwood trees began turning red more than two weeks ago, which is very early. Sumacs and sourwoods recently began turning red, while sugar maples started turning orange and yellow in late August and have been picking up steam. Even some red maples are turning here and there, and this has my attention.
Driving from Roan Mountain (elevations up to 5,800 feet) and Elk River (3,000 feet) Sunday, I saw noticeable coloration in the woods. Most of the trees turning color were sugar maples, mountain ash, birches and chestnuts, which generally turn yellow or orange.
For great drives, consider coming up N.C. 261 from Bakersville/Spruce Pine to Roan Mountain. The Appalachian Trail crosses the road there, and you can hike in the spruce-fir forests on one side and on the balds on the other. It’s a popular hiking destination with tremendous views all around. Other drives include the Blue Ridge Parkway to Grandfather Mountain State Park, the Linn Cove Viaduct, and points north and south. U.S. 64 through Cashiers/Highlands is also a wonderful drive with numerous places to stop and hike along the way.
Remember, colors start earliest at the higher elevations and then work their way downslope each week. For more information, check my Fall Color Facebook page and my Appalachian State University page, where you can also read about the science of fall colors. Happy and safe driving!
added: September 26, 2012
updated: November 7, 2012
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