Hope you escaped some of the severe flooding parts of Greene County experienced over the past week, as another monsoon-like event dumped up to 6 inches of rain over some of the higher elevations. elevated Catskills. My rain gauge only holds five inches and it was full on Tuesday afternoon. I’m guessing another thumb fell into my house that wasn’t saved. Heavy rains like this are more easily absorbed by the fast growing foliage in midsummer, but by now leaf growth and evapotranspiration rates have slowed to a stop. The result is saturated soils that flood. I’m still worried that Prattsville in Greene County will be washed away again, as it did when Tropical Storm Irene dumped about 20 inches of rain in 24 hours. As of yesterday, Schoharie Creek was indeed in flood, but it had not reached street level.
The “Beyfuss Creek” aka the drainage ditch in front of my house turned into a raging river that would easily have swept a car away or drowned anyone who fell in it. Fortunately, after my road was washed away earlier this summer, the local road services installed more culverts and they seemed to be doing their job. Kudos to the highway guys once again.
I didn’t think I would ever say this, but I have to admit this year’s fall color display has been a bit of a letdown so far. In order to develop the intense and brilliant hues of the shades of yellow, orange and gold, produced by certain specific pigments, namely xanthophyll and carotene, it is essential that the chlorophyll pigment disappears completely. Chlorophyll masks these pigments present in the leaves all season long. Chlorophyll degradation only occurs when the plant shuts off water to the chloroplasts, where the pigment is produced. Cold weather, in particular, severe freezes trigger this process the fastest. This fall we have yet to receive a single hard frost as November approaches, even at higher elevations in the Catskills.
I don’t think the leaf spot diseases, which were very common this wet summer, had much to do with it, but anything that causes the leaves to drop prematurely is always a factor. The golden color of sugar maple, our predominant tree species in the region, appeared to be attenuated due to the persistence of chlorophyll in the leaves. It’s certainly visible, but not as bright as you would like.
It is not only the yellow colors that are subdued, but other pigments, which are responsible for the red, purple and dark brown undertones, require sunlight to fully develop. These chemicals are produced in the fall (for reasons no one understands) and are not present all season. This fall has been quite cloudy, except when it was pouring rain.
So the combination of hot, cloudy or rainy days and above freezing nighttime temperatures are the main reasons why this has been a bit of a letdown. But I said “for now”. Different species of trees develop their fall colors at different times in the fall. Maple and hickory, sumac, birch, aspen (poplar), hop charm, locust and ash are the first to color, while red oak and beech are the last. These two main species are still quite green in most places and they will eventually turn red and golden yellow. Beech in particular is usually the last tree species to turn and by the time this happens we’ve often had enough frost and subsequent leaf loss to make the change less noticeable. Beeches continue their photosynthesis fairly late in the fall, provided the soil is sufficiently moist. There is certainly a lot of soil moisture available. I am noticing a particularly vivid fall color on the beech at this time that we usually don’t see and oaks are still coming in many places. The beech leaves sometimes turn green to brown and then quickly fade away, but this year I am seeing pretty shades of rust and yellow appear.
So if it ever stops raining and we finally get frost and sunny days, I think we’ll be treated to a later than “normal” fall color season. I expect some of the beech and oak leaves to linger until Thanksgiving this year, especially in towns across the valley. To quote a line from the song My Little Town by Paul Simon. “It’s not that the colors are black, it’s just imagination, they’re missing.”