This weekend may be peak of fall colorsIf appreciation of autumn’s perennial show of colors is intensified by its fleeting nature, then this year’s production could be precious indeed.
By: By Dave Olson , Forum Communications, The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — If appreciation of autumn’s perennial show of colors is intensified by its fleeting nature, then this year’s production could be precious indeed.
“I think it’s going to happen really fast and when it does you’re going to get a wind storm and it will be gone,” said Michael Kangas, of the North Dakota Forest Service office at North Dakota State University.
This coming weekend might represent the peak as far as viewing fall colors in North Dakota, according to Kangas, a self-described tree guy for whom autumn is a bitter-sweet time.
“I look forward to these two weeks every year,” he said. “I just love the fall colors and there are no mosquitoes.”
And although North Dakota is not a heavily forested state, Kangas said people can find many spots to watch autumn’s spectacular finale; places like the Turtle Mountains in the north central part of the state and the Pembina Gorge in northeastern north Dakota.
“Of course there’s the Sheyenne River Valley that runs from Valley City all the way down to Lisbon that has just beautiful hillsides of various forest types,” said Kangas, who added that the North Dakota Badlands can be amazing in the fall, as can the Red River Valley, where he said ash trees are already starting to “pop.”
This coming weekend and the two to three weeks that follow will be prime color-viewing days in western Minnesota as well, according to officials at Itasca and Maplewood State Parks.
In the case of Itasca near Park Rapids, fall’s chromatic extravaganza typically plays out in three acts.
“Right now, sugar maples, red birch and the red maples are showing the most color,” said Connie Cox, lead interpretative naturalist for the park.
She added that as the reds and golds of the maples start to fade near the end of September, the oak and aspen will take the stage, only to bow out themselves around the second week of October.
Then it will be time for tamarack trees to shine, according to Cox.
“Those are the conifers that drop their needles every year,” she said. “Those will start turning gold probably by that second or third week of October.”
While experts say the summer’s dry conditions may dim leafy displays this fall, colors should be vivid enough to make a trip to places like Maplewood State Park near Pelican Rapids worthwhile, said Jeff Fjestad, assistant manager at the park.
“We are still expecting a nice display of color. It’s going to be a little earlier this year,” said Fjestad, who expects the next two weeks to stay “pretty nice.”
He said underbrush color is peaking already and he said the sumac right now is a brilliant crimson.
While it’s common to hear people describe leaves as turning color, the beautiful hues of red, orange and gold seen in the fall were actually there all summer.
What changes is the production of chlorophyll in the leaves, a key ingredient in the photosynthesis trees use to get the energy they need.
As chlorophyll production stops, other pigments in the leaves become apparent.
“We call them carotenoids and they’re also involved in the capture of certain wavelengths of light for photosynthesis. I guess you could say they are accessory pigments,” said Bryan Bishop, an associate professor of biology at Concordia College in Moorhead.
Bishop said the wavelengths of light most useful to plants reside on the ends of the color spectrum, reds at one end and the blues at the other.
“The stuff in the middle, which tends to be green, is the least useful and that’s what we see being reflected back,” he said.
Bishop said cool nights and warm days, such as those recently experienced in the area, can really help with the tree colors, this summer’s drought will likely play a big role in how impressive the sights will be this fall.
“I know, just being out in the field, plants are really getting stressed,” he said, adding that in the case of many trees leaves are simply turning brown and dropping off.