Autumn color is beginning to make an appearance near the amphitheater behind the Memorial Park Community Center. Ron Campbell/Johnson City Press
Even though the fall season made its annual debut just days ago, little hints of color have already been spotted popping up on local leaves.
According to Tim McDowell, associate professor in the department of biological sciences at East Tennessee State University, the middle of October is the time when the region sees a huge color shift from the spring and summer greens on the trees, to the fall reds, yellows, oranges and dark purples.
He said as the chlorophyll in the green leaves is broken down as temperatures get cooler, the autumn colors start to form.
“During October is usually when we see it happening,” McDowell said. “At the higher elevations ... the colors always come in sooner and where it’s lower and not so cold and not so dry, they tend to stay green a little longer.
“We usually see some of them (trees) change quicker and some of them change later. For example, the bright chrome yellow of the tulip poplars is one of the early ones ... and the reds that you see in the gum tree — sometimes called Tupelos — they come out pretty early. Later on you get the ... yellows, oranges and reds from your maples.”
One of the last trees in our area to turn are the Bradford pear trees.
“They stay green for the longest and then they finally turn a purpley-red and can be very fiery at the very end of our fall season,” McDowell said.
He said the wet summer season does not necessarily affect the leaf color change, but said there would probably be an abundance of leaves this fall.
According to the National Park Service website, the trees — 100 species of native trees — in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park usually peak in the mid- and lower-elevations between the middle of October and early November. Some of the more colorful trees in that area include sugar maple, scarlet oak, sweetgum, red maple and the hickories.
As the leaf lookers take their seasonal strolls through the area, the Great Smoky Mountains, as well as other local spots, normally provide great outlooks to take in some color.
“A lot of people like to get the intense colors sooner by going to the higher spots, like Roan Mountain,” McDowell said. “Perhaps, Unaka Mountain with the Beauty Spot. For hikers, the Appalachian Trail is always a wonderful place to get away from your vehicle and walk outdoors. Really, wherever you go in our region you have wonderful colors. I think the colors will be splendid this year.
“I just hope that people appreciate that in the whole world we’re one of the very best places for this colorful fall display.”