As the hunting seasons continue to unfold, the beauty of just being outdoors increases with each passing day.
Last week, as I sat on a hillside with my crossbow in hand, I could not help but be distracted by the leaves that ever so slowly began to be painted by the hands of nature. As I look forward to my most favorite season, early muzzleloader, I realize that the fall we look forward to is very short in duration. Three to four weeks in length — dependent on temperatures and rainfall — is far shorter than most would like.
“Leaf peepers” should be lacing up those boots and sneakers and heading out there. The ingredients needed to color the landscape in Pennsylvania is already in progress, and in some areas, particularly the Poconos, it has already peaked.
The northern hardwood species — maple, birch and black cherry — that provided vibrant viewing last week, are quickly losing their leaves. White oaks are beginning to display beautiful shades of rich red and bronze, while the red oak and American Beech remain primarily green, with tinges of yellow just now starting to appear.
Pennsylvania is the meeting ground of northern trees that flourish only on mountain tops farther south, and southern species that are at the northern limits of their range. Gray and aper birch, mountain maple, and mountain-ash from the north, share Penn’s Woods with the southern red oak, sweetbay, umbrella magnolias, sourwood, persimmon and sweetgum from the south. Ohio buckeye, bur and shingle oak, common to the Mississippi Valley, have eastern outposts on the Allegheny Plateau.
In most years, the northern Pennsylvania counties reach their best autumn color Oct. 1-10. Central counties are at their peak Oct. 10-20, and southcentral and southeastern Pennsylvania have the most color Oct. 20-31.
According to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website, because carotenoids are always present in leaves, the yellow and gold colors remain fairly constant from year to year. The brilliance of red colors that develop as chlorophyll in the leaves is dwindling, can be affected by temperature and soil moisture in late summer and fall.
A succession of warm, sunny days and cool, crisp but not freezing nights seems to bring about the most spectacular color displays. During the day, sugars are produced in the leaf, but cool nights and the gradual closing of veins connecting leaves to twigs, prevents these sugars from moving out. Lots of sugar and lots of light spur production of brilliant red, purple and crimson anthocyanin pigments to create a pop of spectacular color.
Dry soils also affect the chemistry of autumn color, and like