On Gardening: Alabama autumn will soon reach peak colors
Oct 27, 2013 | 4673 views |  0 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Intensity and longevity of leaf color are different every fall, depending on climatic conditions. Photos: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star
Intensity and longevity of leaf color are different every fall, depending on climatic conditions. Photos: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star
Each fall, Alabama’s landscape puts on a show of colors only nature’s palette can provide. Some of you may have already noticed the yellow leaves of the tulip poplar (one of the first to change colors), the unmistakable red tones of the sourwood tree or the bright red of blueberry bushes and Virginia sweetspire in the northern part of the state.

The changing of the leaves is a sure sign that winter is on the way. But did you know these colors are actually present year round?

Pigments are responsible for the color of tree leaves. Carotenoids, which is present in plants like carrots and daffodils, and xanthophyll are present in leaves displaying yellows, browns and oranges like our hickories, tulip poplars and showy gingko trees. Anthocyanin is present in plants displaying shades of red and purple.

During the growing season, these colors are masked by the green color of the leaves that gives our temperate climate a beautiful forested feel.

The green color stems from chlorophyll, the pigment found in plants and algae. Plants use chlorophyll to trap light needed for photosynthesis. The energy that is absorbed by the chlorophyll is used in photosynthesis to produce food for plant growth. During the active growing season, chlorophyll is repeatedly broken down during photosynthesis, but is replenished. As we near the end of summer, our days become shorter, nights get longer, and temperatures begin to drop. During this time, chlorophyll is not replenished as fast as it is used. As the green fades away, we are able to see the true colors of our deciduous trees and shrubs.

Color intensity and longevity are different every fall, depending on climatic conditions. It’s hard to forecast how great a display nature will put on for us from year to year. But beginning in mid-October you can be assured that somewhere in Alabama there is a great view of fall colors.

According to the Weather Channel’s fall color map, the mountainous northern regions of Alabama are near peak. This means that as much as half the vegetation has changed color. Colors are brightest in the earlier changing trees. Late-changing trees remain primarily green. As we get into November, we will see peak foliage in these areas.

If you are interested in camping or taking a look at some of the fall displays in Alabama, visit the United States Forest Service online at fs.fed.us and look for the link for fall colors. Whether you’re looking to enjoy the Blue Ridge Parkway or autumn in Maine, fall color updates are available by calling the hotline number, 1-800-354-4595. While you’re checking out the colors of fall, don’t forget the many wildflowers adorning the sides of Alabama’s roadways as well.
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