Soon, the air will be crisp, pumpkins will ripen, and the trees will adorn the mountains with rich shades of red, yellow, orange and purple. Fall officially begins on Sept. 22, and locals and tourists alike eagerly await the fall foliage.
While every fall in western North Carolina is beautiful, some seasons seem more brilliantly colorful than others. Determining the fullness of color depends on the types of leaves, the weather and the trees’ growing conditions. Experts’ predictions on this fall’s showing are as varied as the colors that dangle from the trees. Among the conditions often quoted is a good growing season, so that the trees have not been stressed during the summer. Secondly, the fall season must turn dry, while sunny weather helps create a colorful fall.
Others believe that the best fall color is seen after springs with low levels of rainfall, when plant growth is stunted by a lack of sufficient water. A lack of rainfall stresses the trees, and that stress typically results in more colorful foliage. During periods of adequate rainfall, most of the trees’ energy goes into the production of wood instead of producing leaf pigments. Predicting the beauty of autumn in western North Carolina is a big task because conditions can also differ from ridge to ridge and between ridges and valleys. The color of leaves changes at different elevations. The lower elevations change after the higher elevations. So, Rosman at 2,400 feet will change later than Gorges State Park, which is at 3,200 feet. The earliest leaves to change are found atop the biggest mountains, like Mt. Mitchell, which stands at 6,684 feet.
Another unique feature of this area’s forestry is the high diversity of trees. It is common to have 25 to 30 different trees in a cove forest. A few to look out for are oaks and hickories on the ridges. They are some of the best trees for fall colors. Red maples that are in coves and hang onto their leaves long enough can be impressive, though the red maples on the ridges tend to drop their leaves earlier. All experts agree that mid-October is typically prime viewing season.