As the leaves make their annual transformation in the coming weeks, the mountains and surrounding clusters of trees will light up with golden yellows, bright oranges and deep reds.
“There’s sort of a slow start up and then the colors really hit,” said Tim McDowell, associate professor of biology at East Tennessee State University. “It hasn’t gotten to anything near the saturation point, and even after that there’s still a couple of weeks where the good colors hang on.”
Despite a dry spell in August, McDowell predicts a successful foliage display within the later weeks of October. He says it’s not easy to pinpoint the exact amount of color or the primetime for viewing, given the long list of deciduous trees in the region.
The ones growing in the highest elevation will change first, but McDowell says many of the dogwoods are already turning to red. Those observing the gradual growth of color may see the yellows come first from the branches of tulip poplars. Maples usually go through a sequence of yellow to orange and ending with red. Sweet and Black gums, sourwoods and oak trees, will also show off a ruby tone.
Bradford Pear trees are one of the last to turn since they’re not a native to the area, but McDowell says the tree doesn’t get enough credit for its shiny, leathery leaves that display a variety of colors.
The brief cold snap last weekend was a refreshing boost for local leaves. They’ll continue to transform as the days get shorter and the trees prepare for freezing weather. McDowell says the colors come through as the supply of chlorophyll is removed, which is the source of green leaves. As trees begin to store nutrients and minerals in the roots, trunk and stems in preparation for spring, a beautiful showcase of nature’s finest artwork is revealed all over the region.
“We’re really very privileged because we have so many beautiful scenic views and forests around here,” he said. “In other places, people would have to travel a distance to see them and we are right in the midst of it.”
The biology professor suggested visiting parks like Buffalo Mountain, Winged Deer and Roan Mountain. Taking a stroll through the campus of ETSU and the arboretum may also be a source for foliage as many unusual species are planted there. University Woods located behind campus has 200-year-old buckeyes and white oak trees, as well as very large maples, tulip poplars and hickories.
“Go wherever you find it most relaxing,” he said. “I recommend that people go to our local parks and just walk with families and their dogs.”
Since the region has such a diversity and abundance of deciduous trees, McDowell says there should be a long season of color. Although the trees haven’t produced to their full potential just yet, now is still a good time to enjoy the weather and observe the shades of color that will continue to form through October.
“I imagine that around here, things will be increasingly colorful for the next four weeks right through the month,” he said. “I’d say it’s just going to get better week after week for the whole month.”