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Fall Foliage May Not Be As Brilliant As In Some Years, But It Should Hang Around



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Spots of color are beginning to make a presence in the area as fall foliage slowly arrives. But given the drought Connecticut experienced throughout most of the summer, can we expect the remaining green leaves to turn colors and put on a show as they generally do, or will lack of rain mean we are in for a lackluster color season?ct.gov/deep).ctvisit.com provides ideas for fall activities, and has a week-by-week foliage finder guide.

The answer might be a little of both.

"I wouldn't call it spectacular but I'd call it worthwhile," said Christopher Martin, director/state forester, Division of Forestry, Bureau of Natural Resources, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), in describing what visitors to the state as well as Connecticut leaf peepers have to look forward to this fall.

"Western Connecticut is in a moderate drought as opposed to the northern part of the state which is in severe," Mr Martin said. "There's going to be some variability throughout the state."

Connecticut might have the best color in all of New England, Mr Martin added.

Something that bodes well for Newtown and surrounding communities is the rainfall that came in the last week of September. It is not too late for rain to help the trees, Mr Martin said, because they have shallow root systems and can benefit from moisture quickly.

The warm days and cool nights we have experienced and recent rain, along with shorter daylight hours to an extent, all play a role in leaves changing, Mr Martin said.

"If one of those is really out of whack things will get out of balance," he said. "Striking that happy balance happens occasionally."

If there is a severe drought trees shut down earlier, and the green leaves turn to a faded yellow or brown color, Mr Martin said.

Likewise, too much rain and not enough cool nights can mean a poor color season.

"If you get rain and warm temperatures the leaves will stay green," Mr Martin explained.

Those who remember raking up leaves with dark spots in past years may have noted that those spots coincided with wet summers. That is because too much moisture for the trees causes fungus to develop. The result is dark spots that mar the otherwise colorful leaves.

Because of the dry summer Newtown experienced this year, and taking into account the cooperative cool nights and recent rain, Mr Martin anticipates the colorful show to hang around a bit longer than in some years.

"It may come a little later and last a little longer, barring any strong winds," he anticipates.

The reason leaves change color when those weather variables come into play, according to Mr Martin, is a chemical process in the tree as the growing season ends. Sugar-based compounds called carotenoids produced when days stay warm, with temperatures in the 60s and 70s, get trapped in the leaves when temperatures drop into the 40s at night, Mr Martin said.

In addition to green chlorophyll, leaves also contain yellow or orange carotenoids. For most of the year, those orange and yellow carotenoids are hidden by the large amounts of green chlorophyll. In the fall, "the chlorophyll breaks down and the green fades away, letting the yellow/orange carotenoids blaze forth, giving autumn its splash, dash and panache," says the DEEP website (

"At the same time, other chemical changes occur, giving rise to more pigments which vary from yellow to red to blue. It is to these changes we owe the reds and purples of sumac, the brilliant orange or fiery red and yellow of sugar maple, and the golden bronze of beech," the DEEP website adds.

The website

The turning leaves at Ram Pasture herald the arrival of fall. (Bee Photo, Hutchison)
Leaves are changing color more rapidly with the arrival of cooler nights and rainfall. (Bee Photo, Hutchison)
Splashes of color break up the green canvas of trees throughout town. (Bee Photo, Hutchison)
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