Despite a hot, dry summer across much of the state, this fall will still feature the vibrant colors that residents have come to expect, according to North Carolina State University forestry and environmental resources professor Dr. Robert Bardon.
“The good news is that the trees aren’t currently being stressed by drought or other conditions, and the recent turn in the weather – with sunny, mild days and cool nights – is perfect for color production,” Bardon says.
During the spring and summer, leaves manufacture most of the food necessary for a tree’s growth. The food-making process occurs in cells that contain the pigment chlorophyll, which gives the leaves their green color. The leaves also contain other pigments that are masked most of the year by the greater amount of chlorophyll.
In the fall, partly because of the changes in the period of daylight and changes in temperature, the leaves stop their food-making process. As the chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears and yellow colors surface. Other chemical changes create additional pigments that vary from yellow to red to blue.
The result is a parade of color that begins in the state’s northwestern corner in late September, then makes its way across North Carolina in a southeasterly direction. Due to the state’s varied geography, North Carolinians enjoy a color season that often lasts from the end of September until the middle of November.
Bardon predicts that the peak for Wake County will occur near the end of October, but early birds who want to get a jump on enjoying the season can probably already find some nice color in the upper elevations in places like Mt. Mitchell, Boone, or Blowing Rock.