NC State professor expects North Carolina’s fall foliage to be more vibrant than average

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — With fall now in full swing, you may be looking for fun ways to welcome the new season. Enjoying the fall foliage is the perfect way to get into the fall spirit.

Dr. Robert Bardon, a professor of forestry and environmental resources at N.C. State University, says this year’s foliage is expected to be more vibrant than average thanks to our previous weather this year.

“This year we’ve had decent weather. We’ve had a good amount of rain throughout the year so soil moisture is plentiful across most of our state, and now that we’re moving into fall weather we’re starting to see the warm sunny days but cool nights, which impacts the sugar productions. I would expect that we would probably have very vibrant colors this fall season.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. Our weather down the road can still impact this year’s foliage, both good and bad.

“If we have major storm systems that move through here in the fall, it can actually cause our trees to lose their leaves early. As you can imagine, just a lot of wind and heavy rain can actually literally knock the leaves off the trees, which would have an impact on what we would see and how long the fall color season might be. The flip side of that is if we continue to see the warm sunny days and cool nights and continue to get some rain periodically through the fall, I would expect us to see a fairly decent length for our fall color season.”

Here’s a little science for you-leaves is colorful because of pigments. The most prominent pigment is chlorophyll, which produces the green color we see in plants.

As summer fades, so does the chlorophyll. That allows the other colors, such as yellow and orange, to shine.

Dr. Bardon says there are two other pigments in the leaves- carotenoids (yellow and orange hues) and anthocyanins (red and purple hues). Sunshine and cooler temperatures are ideal conditions for sugar production in the leaves.

The sugar is crucial for leaves to produce their lively fall colors. Long stretches of wet weather could cause less sugar production in the leaves, leading to less vibrant colors.

The best time to see the leaves changing will depend on your location. The higher elevations usually see the colors changing first.

Color changes then move across the state to the coast. Dr. Bardon says that for the central part of North Carolina, we can look to really see the colors from the end of October into November. So you won’t have to go far either to see Mother Nature’s dynamic display.

“Really any place is a good place to get outdoors, places like Umstead State Park. Many of our state parks or even our local county parks provide opportunities for us to see fall colors, but even just your local greenway. Colors are produced by the broadleaf trees, the hardwood trees that we have across the state. And you can pretty much go anywhere, even walking in your neighborhood, and you’ll see trees that will show us some color,” says Bardon.

If you’re looking for less crowded spaces to enjoy the foliage during COVID-19, Bardon recommends heading to smaller parks that aren’t always on the map.

“I do know from personal experience, you can see that many of our state parks are often busy on weekends, as well as maybe our city parks. So trying to find those off-peak times to go out, or go to places that are maybe less traveled, a county park or something that’s maybe not as well known might provide you an opportunity that you continue to be safe.”

So whether you travel near or far, grab your pumpkin spice and get ready to enjoy some “un-be-leaf-able” views!

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