By Mark S. Kenna
Sept. 4, 2013. If the recent pattern of cooler and sunny conditions continues, the High Country “could have a good fall color season,” Howard Neufeld, professor of biology at Appalachian State University, said.
Many conditions besides the amount of sunlight and cooler temperatures effect how the leaves change colors, Neufeld said.
Neufeld added that other variables like drought and the probability of severe rain could also play a role in either hindering or helping the fall leaf colors. Once the leaves begin to change, severe weather can knock all the leaves off the trees; also drought can affect the vibrancy of the red pigment leaves that certain trees produce.
Though some trees are already changing, Neufeld believes that the leaves will not start changing for another month.
“I still think the major peak will occur at about the same time this year as in past years, which for the Boone area at 3,300 feet elevation, is mid-October (10-14th),” Neufeld said. “If it gets warmer, that will delay the color peak by several days, and if much cooler, could advance it by the same amount.”
However it is not just temperature and sunlight that can affect the fall leaf colors. Also, the composition of the forest and the placement of trees, which can also produce differing pigments, must be taken into account.
Unlike red pigment, the yellow and orange pigments are underneath the green pigment, whereas the red pigment has to be produced by the tree, Neufeld said.
This pigment is at its most vibrant point when the transition to fall has more sunny days than cloudy. If there is no sunlight for the tree to undergo photosynthesis, the red-colored leaves will be dull.
Elk Knob State Park and Wilson Ridge near Grandfather mountain yield nice fall leaf colors, Neufeld said.
He added that Howard’s Knob in Boone is duller than other peaks in the area.
For the past seven years Neufeld has been working with the North Carolina Tourism Board and assists the tourism authority in Asheville.
“I don’t get paid for this,” Neufeld said. “I do it because I love fall colors and enjoy helping people plan their schedules so they can maximize their visit to the mountain at this time of year.”
Also starting sometime in September, look to Neufeld’s “Fall Color Report” on the ASU Biology website.