MARYLAND, September 23, 2023 – As autumn officially descends upon the Northern Hemisphere, Marylanders eagerly anticipate the changing of leaves and the arrival of cooler temperatures. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is again prepared to provide its weekly Fall Foliage Report, a valuable resource for leaf peepers and outdoor enthusiasts nationwide.
For years, scientists have delved into why trees undergo the remarkable transformation of colors during autumn. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, the process is influenced by three primary factors: leaf pigments, night length, and weather conditions.
Melissa Nash, State Forest Manager at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, explains that leaves appear green during the warm summer months due to chlorophyll pigment. Beneath this green facade, hidden pigments such as xanthophyll and carotenes, akin to those found in carrots, contribute shades of yellow and orange.
However, the transition from green to vibrant orange, yellow, and red hues occurs as fall approaches. A decrease in daylight hours and the arrival of cooler temperatures prompt leaves to cease photosynthesis, leading to chlorophyll breakdown. This breakdown reveals the underlying yellow and orange pigments. In some cases, trees also produce anthocyanins, contributing to red and purplish tones.
So when can Marylanders expect to witness this natural spectacle? The Department of Natural Resources’ foresters have provided their expert predictions, starting with the state’s western region.
Aaron Cook, State Forester at Indian Springs Wildlife Management Area, voiced concerns about the impact of early leaf-out and extended summer dry spells in western Maryland. Drought stress has already led to leaf drop among certain tree species. Cook stated, “If we don’t get some rain, I don’t think it’s going to be a spectacular year like we had last year. Hot and dry just doesn’t bode well for fall color.”
Experts in other areas echoed similar sentiments. Patapsco Valley State Park is witnessing a more barren canopy than usual due to this summer’s heat and limited rainfall. Previously affected by drought, Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area predicts a below-average display of autumn foliage.
Despite these challenges, there’s hope on the horizon. The Farmer’s Almanac predicts that much of New England will reach peak fall color by October 11, while the Blue Ridge Mountains are expected to follow suit by mid-October. According to the Washington Post, Maryland should see its peak colors around mid-October, with a final peak arriving around October 23. However, it’s worth noting that the northern half of Virginia will likely be past its peak by that time.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources encourages leaf peepers and outdoor enthusiasts to actively participate in capturing the beauty of the fall season. They invite everyone to submit their autumnal photos, which might be featured in upcoming editions of the Fall Foliage Report.
As the autumn equinox ushers in a new season, Marylanders can look forward to the stunning transformation of their landscapes. While challenges such as drought and heat may affect the intensity of fall colors, nature’s resilience promises that the beauty of autumn will not be entirely diminished. Stay tuned for weekly updates from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to plan your leaf-peeping adventures.