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The feel of fall is in the air!

By Eddie Seagle

“By all these lovely tokens September days are here, with summer’s best of weather and autumn’s best of cheer.” Helen Hunt Jackson. “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” Oscar Wilde.” Ah, September! You are the doorway to the season that awakens my soul…” Peggy Toney Horton.

From enjoying the cooler morning temps to watching the pine needles drop from the trees to welcoming football season into our schedules, the feel of fall is in the air. And, guess what, Labor Day is just around the corner.

Just as Memorial Day introduces summertime and the beach-season, Labor Day bids them farewell each year. As August gives way to September, we adjust our activities to accommodate the “fall stuff.”

September is almost here and autumn leaves will soon be preparing to display colors throughout the land, from our landscapes to the wooded areas (October color is magnificent pending environmental conditions)! Have you ever wondered how the specific colors develop in the leaves of trees in the fall?

The green pigments are due to chlorophyll production. These pigments dominate during the spring and summer, thus masking the other pigments in the leaves. The yellow pigments are a result of the presence of the carotenoids and have been present in the leaf cells throughout the life of the leaf. These pigments provide the yellow hues that leaves exhibit when the chlorophylls are not present.

The red or purple pigments are a result of the presence of the anthocyanins which form in the cell sap of some species in late summer and fall. The combination of chlorophyll reduction and sugar breakdown in the presence of bright sunlight, cooler temperatures, and the transfer of phosphorus from the leaf to the stems produces the red and purple anthocyanin pigments which are seen in the maples and other plant species.

The brown pigments are a result of the presence of the tannins which are seen in the oaks and similar trees. The tannins essentially act as a defense system for plants against pathogens, herbivores and poor environmental conditions.

The orange pigments are a result of the presence of both the carotenoids and the anthocyanins. This combination brings out the awesome display of orange colors in trees.

Where can you find places to witness magnificent fall colors?

As mother nature would have it, the awesome display of fall coloration is magnified as different tree species are found in mixed populations throughout our forests and woodlands. The beauty of such fall coloration in trees can be witnessed across the United States in parks, urban areas, the countryside, and the mountains (from home landscapes to secluded areas). To observe magnificent displays of color, identify and visit an area that is full of deciduous trees before they drop their leaves.

The number of leaf-lookers in the fall on the weekends has grown dramatically in recent years. This also means that the highways and byways will be more heavily trafficked, thus realize that traffic may be problematic with fender-benders and slow-moving vehicles. Once you get closer to such natural displays of color, what might have been a 30-minute drive under normal conditions could develop into a very slow journey during peak leaf-looking hours. However, the view is priceless and well-worth the time and effort if you have the patience.

Some awesome places for leaf viewing include the northeast (New England area) which is famous for its diverse display of several bright colors. Also, the Rocky Mountains are known for the contrasting color of Aspen trees (yellows) next to dark green conifers. And, the Smokey Mountains definitely exhibit a colorful viewing which is well-worth the drive-through. Furthermore, from the Boston Mountains in Arkansas through the Appalachian Mountains to the Allegheny Mountains, beautiful fall color abounds.

Many scenic highways and byways are identified as the route to select for viewing the fall colors at their very best (ie. Blue Ridge Parkway). Also, all the national forests have unlimited viewing areas in many states in all regions across the country. Enjoy the view as you become one of the millions of leaf-lookers in the fall.

Think in terms of native and sustainable plants in the landscape. May this bit of awareness spark your desire to learn and ask questions, encourage you to further apply your gained knowledge, and bring you to further realize that environmental stewardship and sustainability should be at the foundation of all your home landscape activities. Happy Labor Day weekend – drive safely and arrive alive!

“I love the Lord. He heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.” Psalm 116:1-2

Seagle is a Sustainability Associate, Golf Environment Organization (Scotland), Agronomist and Horticulturalist, CSI: Seagle (Consulting Services International), Professor Emeritus and Honorary Alumnus (Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College), Distinguished Professor for Teaching and Learning (University System of Georgia) and Short Term Missionary (Heritage Church, Moultrie). Direct inquiries to csi_seagle @yahoo.com.