Wetland areas like this one on the side of the Taconic can be great for fall colors as the "swamp" maples and other trees color up. ANDREW MESSINGER
Along Route 23 near the Massachusetts-New York border a meadow opens up to a long and narrow wetland with the toe of a mountain touching the wetland. The Catskills are in the background. For peepers and picture takers, pull off the road, put on your flashers and gaze to your delight. ANDREW MESSINGER
Just off Route 28 in Ulster County, the utility right of way has been cleared recently allowing this sighting of a maple in full fall color. ANDREW MESSINGER
Just like people, no two sugar maples are alike. This one was an orange-red and incredibly striking. ANDREW MESSINGER
While getting out of the truck for another picture from the Taconic Parkway, the roadside was covered with asters and goldenrods. Fall views don’t always have to be distant or high up. ANDREW MESSINGER
Along a ski trail in the Catskills this group of six sugar maples is in various stages of brilliant color change. The taller tree in the back (right) changes last as it gets less sun exposure, but the open trail in front allows sunlight to penetrate and speed up the changes. ANDREW MESSINGER
Looking from the top of a ski run in southern Massachusetts, the valley below shows the richness of fall colors that can last for weeks or days depending on the year. ANDREW MESSINGER
Hydrangea paniculata "Bobo" showing its fall colors in early October. It does well on the East End with just a dapple of shade. Flowers open white, then over the summer and into the fall they take on a pink hue followed by darker pink to near red. Cut back one third of the height each winter. ANDREW MESSINGER
Some views are subtle ones, like this shot on the border of Ulster and Delaware counties on Route 28 heading west. This is a classic "patchwork" shot where maples, dogwoods and birches are changing colors but the oaks are still green and will turn in several weeks. ANDREW MESSINGER
One of the complaints that I hear in these parts in the fall is that there is no color, none of that vivid, striking brilliance that makes New England so popular now. Well, the color is here, maybe a bit more subtle and in need of our helping hands (and plantings) but we do have our share and it is especially noticed in the older villages where cultivated trees and shrubs have been dominant for hundreds of years. It’s also more pronounced on the North Shore than on the South Shore.
As children we were secure and knowledgeable in the fact that Jack Frost was responsible for the riot of colors that move from our earthbound gardens up into the limbs, branches and twigs above. I have it on good authority, though, that Jack retired and is now living in Century Village, Florida, where he complains bitterly about the lack of seasons.
The Native Americans, on the other hand, believed that celestial hunters slew the Great Bear in the autumn, and that his blood, dripping on the forests, changed many of the leaves to red. Other trees were turned to yellow by the fat that splattered out of the kettle as the hunters cooked the meat. Fairy tales and legend aside, we now know that leaf color changes that happen at this time of the year are due to chemical processes that take place within the trees as the seasons begin to move from summer to winter.
All during the spring and summer the leaves served as factories where most of the foods necessary for the trees’ growth are manufactured. This food-making process takes place in the leaf in numerous cells containing the pigment chlorophyll, which, from spring on, gives the leaf its green color.
Chlorophyll absorbs energy from sunlight and uses it in transforming carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrates, such as sugars and starch. Along with the green pigment, leaves also contain yellow or orange carotenoids which, for example, give the carrot its familiar color. Most of the year these yellowish colors are masked by the greater amount of green coloring, but not in all plants. In the fall, however, partly because of changes in the period of daylight and changes in temperature, the leaves stop their food making process. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellowish colors become visible and give the leaves part of their fall splendor.
At the same time other chemical changes may occur and cause the formation of additional pigments that vary from yellow to red to blue. Some of them give rise to the reddish and purplish fall colors of leaves of trees such as dogwoods and sumacs. Others give the sugar maple its brilliant orange or fiery red and yellow. The autumn foliage of some trees, such as the quaking aspen, birch and hickory, show only yellow colors.
Many oaks on the other hand will turn mostly brownish while beech turns a golden bronze. One small Japanese maple that I watch every few days will go from a vivid blood red to a near orange and then seems to go into a yellow phase just before leaf drop. All this due to varying amounts of chlorophyll and other pigments that are about to peak.
If it’s the red autumn colors that you’re after now is the time to take a few days off and do some driving. There have been several brilliantly sunny October days followed by night temperatures well below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and the Catskills, Berkshires and lower Hudson Valley is putting on a show.
Much sugar is made in the leaves during the daytime, but cool nights prevent the movement of sugar from the leaves. From the sugars trapped in the leaves the red pigment called anthocyanin is formed. Familiar trees with red or scarlet leaves in the fall are red maple, silver maple, flowering dogwood, sweetgum, black tupelo or blackgum, northern red oak, scarlet oak and sassafras. Two vines that turn red are Virginia creeper and poison ivy.
The degree of color may vary from one tree or vine to another, and in this year of the drought the colors are even more complex. For example, leaves directly exposed to the sun may turn red, while those on the shady side of the same tree or on other trees in the shade may be yellow. On hillsides and ridges you can see swaths of brown where the trees simply defoliated due to the lack of ground moisture.
The foliage of some tree species just turns dull brown from death and decay and never shows any bright colors. Another interesting fact is that the colors on the same tree may vary from year to year depending on the combinations of weather conditions. When there is much warm, cloudy, rainy weather in the fall, the leaves tend to have less coloration. The smaller amount of sugar made in the reduced sunlight moves out of the leaves during the warm nights. Thus, no excess sugar remains in the leaves to form pigments. Most broad-leaved trees in this area shed their leaves in the fall. However, the dead brown leaves of the oaks and a few other species may stay on the trees until growth starts again in the spring. Through the fallen leaves of all of the other trees nature provides herself with a type of manna rich in calcium and potassium which, if left undisturbed, again becomes an original part of the soil from which it originally came.
If you are going out foliage hunting (referred to as peeping) and are willing to head off the Island there is good and bad news. Maine, Northern Vermont and New Hampshire have already peaked. The Lower Hudson River Valley still has plenty of color, and I have two routes to suggest. Syracuse.com described the colors this year as “a seasonal palette of saffron, turmeric, yam, curry, paprika, ginger, cinnamon, eggplant, dandelion, buttercup, caramel, vermilion and chili pepper-colored leaves.”
Route No. 1 starts in Westchester where you can pick up the Taconic State Parkway. Take the Taconic through the rolling hills and head north. As you get up into northern Dutchess County you’ll begin to notice the Catskills way to the west and the Berkshires to the north. The colors also become more vivid. If you get off at exit 88 you can take Route 23 west and north. Soon you’ll see the hills growing into mountains along with open fields and great vistas. You’ll be heading toward Great Barrington, but 23 is a small enough highway so you can pull to the side and enjoy the sights. Dairy farms, horse farms, hay farms, rolling hills and smaller mountains offer a full palette of colors.
A different route is to take the NYS Thruway up to Kingston and exit 19. At Kingston you can get on Route 28 and head west into the Catskills or head for the Mid-Hudson Bridge, over the river and head east to the Taconic then up to route 23.
If you stay on 28 heading west you can drive for several hours right through the middle of the Catskills. This route has the potential for much more in terms of altitude and the gradations of color caused by the mountain peaks being so much colder than the valleys below. Once at and past Phoenicia, the scenery is quite mountainous, and you’ll head into Andes about 45 minutes later where 28 then goes north through farmland, old barns and lots of dairy cows with tons of color at ground level and up into the hills and mountains. You’ll end up in Oneonta, and at that point you can head west to Albany then back down the Hudson River Valley.
Don’t wait too long. Things change quickly and by the third week in October the color starts to fade but lingers on, to the south. Enjoy and keep growing.
One fine body…