Fall expected to paint region's foliage with brilliant palette
Updated 5:11 pm, Friday, September 28, 2012
Connecticut is known for richly colored vistas in autumn. When picturing what red, orange, purple and yellow have in common, one thing comes to mind -- leaves. And this year's fall foliage is expected to paint the season with a brilliant palette of colors.
According to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, fall foliage will peak around Oct. 20 in northern Connecticut and work its way down to southern Connecticut by Nov. 4.
For the leaves to create that beautiful, vibrant color, several factors come into play, one being the ratio of water consumption to sun exposure. Too much rain isn't always good for fall color. A damp summer can cause the leaves to become diseased. Once the leaves are drenched, they dry up quicker and die when the sun does return.
This year, Connecticut's spring began with unexpectedly warm weather. As the leaves emerged, it turned cold and a bit wet, damaging some of the foliage. But a relatively dry summer followed, which may have turned things around.
"Earlier this year, we had some weather issues, but it seems like it didn't create too much damage," said David F. Avery, professor of botany at Southern Connecticut State University. "The leaves seem to be doing well this year. From what I've seen, it looks like this year we may be getting a nice view when it comes to the autumn. With the last few years lacking when it comes to color, it's nice to see Connecticut getting back its fall beauty."
Another contributing factor to healthy leaves is chlorophyll, the molecule that not only turns leaves green, but also is necessary for the photosynthesis process in which sunlight energy is converted into sugar. Chlorophyll needs sunlight for the process to work, and cloudy, rainy conditions can lead to the leaves dying early instead of changing into autumn colors.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, leaves also have carotenoids, which produce the yellow, orange and brown colors, and anthocyanins, which produce the reds and purples.
During growing season, chlorophyll is continually being produced and broken down so the leaves appear green.
When days get shorter, chlorophyll production slows, stops and is eventually eliminated from the leaf. This is the time that the carotenoids and anthocyanins are unmasked to reveal their bright, vivid colors.
Two events doomed last year's foliage. The first was Tropical Storm Irene, which ripped into the state Aug. 28, 2011. Whatever leaves were spared were finished off when a nor'easter raked Connecticut on Oct. 29, dumping more than a foot of wet snow on upstate forests.
By comparison, 2012 is looking pretty good, leaf color prognosticators said.
"We anticipate yet another fantastic foliage season where residents and visitors alike will be treated to one of Connecticut's most renowned landscape wonders," said Christopher Martin, director of forestry for the DEEP.
Fruits of the season
Foliage isn't the only thing ripening in autumn. Crops rely heavily on the correct type of weather to ensure their growth and longevity. Autumn is prime time for pumpkin- and apple-picking.
Pumpkins grow best in warmer weather, so they should be planted around early summer; they love the sun, but if it gets too hot, they can rot. Although Connecticut had some days of extreme heat, it did not prove to be serious enough to damage the pumpkin crop.
Pumpkin patch owners in and around Connecticut said they have a pretty good crop this year.
"Pumpkins blossom later in the summer, around July and August, so there wasn't any frost problems for us," said Irv Silverman, owner of Silverman's Farm in Easton. "Our pumpkins are fine; actually, they are better than fine. They came out great this season."
Although most pumpkin farms are doing well, the same cannot be said for apple growth. Like pumpkins, apples need sunlight to flourish but are much more sensitive when it comes to harmful weather.
Although its pumpkins are flourishing, Silverman's is having a hard time with its apples. During March and April, unusually warm weather encouraged the apples to start to bloom. Then, a frost hit, causing most of the apples to go bad.
"Unfortunately for us, this knocked out around 70 percent of our peaches and most of our apples," said Silverman. "We have enough apples to last us the next two to three weeks, so those are available for people to come and buy, but once we are out that's it."
Despite these setbacks, a bright and colorful autumn season appears just over the horizon.