October 11, 2011

Fall missing its true colors

The leaves of red and gold are late and just not that vivid this October.

By Beth Quimby bquimby@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The Maine landscape this fall has a little less sparkle, fewer brilliant reds, neon oranges and iridescent purples.

click image to enlarge

Fall foliage is on display Monday along King Hill Road in Bridgton, in photo above. In top left photo, afternoon sun helps the color of this leaf pop out at a Pittston cemetery.

Gabe Souza/John Patriquin/Staff Photographers

Not only that, autumn's usual display is late by at least a week.

Thanks to a string of rainy days, warm weather, fungus and other factors, the foliage, with some exceptions, isn't what it should be, experts say.

"The leaves are drab, kind of what I have been expecting," said Bill Livingston, associate professor of forestry resources at the University of Maine in Orono, where the foliage season is more than a week overdue.

The muted colors aren't confined to Maine. Late and anemic displays are being reported in Vermont and New Hampshire.

Even usually optimistic tourism officials agree that this year is turning out to be a dud for color.

"We haven't gotten there yet," said Greg Dugal, executive director of the Maine Innkeepers Association.

Livingston said fall colors are brightest when there has been a string of cold nights, with temperatures in the low 40s or 30s, followed by sunny days.

Sunny days produce the sugar in the leaves that is needed for brilliant colors.

The coolness prevents the sugar from being transported back into the trees at night.

So far, this October has been marked by driving rains or record warmth.

Other factors have conspired to make this a dingy autumn.

Last spring's soggy weather created perfect conditions for the anthracnose fungus, which caused leaves to blacken and start dropping in August, said Tim Lindsay, president of the Maine Arborist Association.

Norway maples, birches and some oaks have been hit hard.

Other fungi, such as leaf rust and cedar apple rust, have also taken a toll on foliage, Lindsay said. "It has not been a friendly year," he said.

Hurricane Irene, in late August, didn't do the foliage any favors either, stripping leaves in some locations and burning leaves with salt spray along the immediate coast.

Tree specialists said that although the rain may have dampened the foliage season, it has done no harm to the trees.

Lindsay said moist conditions are good in the fall, when trees switch their energies away from foliage and into their root systems.

Nor do tourism specialists expect this year's dull display to have any long-term effects. Fall tourists book their trips months in advance for Columbus Day weekend, typically the fourth-biggest tourism weekend in Maine, said Dugal, with the innkeepers association.

Leaf peepers look forward to enjoying the state when the summer crowds have gone home, and are generally forgiving about missing peak conditions, said Donna Hanson, a vice president with Maine Tour Connection of South Portland.

Hanson said that as a whole, leaf peepers are a forgiving lot, and she doesn't expect one bad year to have negative reverberations.

"Most people realize it is all weather-dependent," she said.

Livingston, the forestry professor, said there is still a chance that this season's foliage could brighten, if the weather switches back to more typical fall conditions.

But with the forecast calling for continued warm nights and rain for most of this week, that is looking less likely.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: bquimby@pressherald.com

 

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