Enjoying the fall foliage is an important part of the autumn season. In Chautau-qua and Cattaraugus counties, we are often blessed with colorful displays combining yellow, gold, reds and burgundy leaves.
After a number of agricultural challenges this year, including a smaller than usual grape crop, people might wonder whether the foliage will be impacted.
Karl Niklas, Cornell University professor of plant biology, was recently reported as saying "I wish I was wrong, but I'm predicting that this year's autumn coloration will not be as grand as in years past."
OBSERVER Photo by Diane R. Chodan
This tree on Maple Avenue in Cassadaga shows the beautiful red foliage characteristic of maples in fall, but some of its leaves have already dropped.
Reached by telephone, Niklas, a professor of botany for 34 years as well as an avid gardener, said that he was speaking about the region around Ithaca (Tompkins County) where he lives.
His prediction would hold true for other areas that had similar conditions.
Trees, like people, are affected by stress. Niklas explained lack of rainfall coupled with really hot days, stress a tree. Once the tree is stressed, it often becomes infected; this causes further stress. Leaves that are infected show black spots.
"One strategy of infected plants is to drop leaves," he said. "In my area the temperatures were as high as 104 degrees during a time when we hadn't gotten rain for almost a month. Leaves are curling and dropping. I am seeing this in my own yard."
Trees have to cool themselves by evaporation, he explained. When there is no water, the stomata in the leaves close up. Eventually, the cells of the leaves become damaged and cannot be repaired. Trees along the roadside where salt is used are particularly impacted.
"Horse chestnut trees are, for some reason, particularly susceptible to this," he said.
Because of the mild winter, the growing season was accelerated by about two weeks. This meant different types of trees will turn color at different times. "We will be spreading the wealth instead of having one spectacular color display," Niklas said.
Niklas said that the mild winters and lack of rainfall in the summer are consistent with global warming predicted by climatologists. He said he wishes this weren't the case, but everything he has studied caused him to believe this is occurring.
"Scientists are paid to tell the truth," he said.
Aaron Reynolds, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo, asked to comment on the prospects for this area said, "There were substantial drought conditions in Western New York. These lead to a less spectacular fall foliage display."
Jon Titus, who teaches botany at SUNY Fredonia said that there are so many different variables that contribute to the fall foliage that he would not want to predict how the display will be this year. "I was kayaking around Bear Lake and the maples were bright red and looking good." He also mentioned that people who plant Norway maples are robbing themselves. Norway maples are non-native. While often planted by homeowners, some consider them an invasive plant since they can outcompete native species like the sugar maple.
I Love New York, the official New York state tourism site, issues fall foliage reports each year. It released its first fall foliage report on Sept 12. Reports are obtained from field observers, volunteer "Leaf Peepers," who report on color conditions expected for the coming weekend. The reports are issued on Wednesdays and are available at www.iloveny.com.
Eric Scheffel, a spokesman with I Love New York, explained, " Peak is the most beautiful as the foliage will appear during the season, according to the observer."
This past weekend the color change was expected to be most prominent in the Adirondacks and the Catskills, with changes up to 45 percent in some areas of the Adirondacks and up to 40 percent in some parts of the Catskills. In our area, color change is reported as 10 percent or less.
Scheffel said that Cattaraugus and Chautau-qua counties typically peak later. Last year on Oct. 12, Cattaraugus County was just past peak and Chau-tauqua County was at peak.
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