by Melissa Moore France-
Days after the autumnal equinox (the time when the sun crosses the celestial equator), everything outside my office window is still green, but not a lush, vibrant green. It is more of a crunchy, dusty, tired-of-the-brutal-heat-and-humidity green. However, the iconic southern crepe myrtles are still squeezing out small, sparsely scattered, yet still intensely colorful red and hot pink blooms. They seem to be in denial that all the neighboring plants look as if they are pleading, “Just let me die already.” Thus, we are in the ugly transitional period that must be endured before that most wonderful time of the year—fall—unveils her glory.
Everyone loves fall color. We can’t wait for the leaves of plants and trees to start changing their color. However, the leaves are not really changing their color. They are losing their green color which allows the other pigments already present to show. As the days become shorter, fewer hours of sunshine triggers the gradual goodbye to the green (chlorophyll) in the leaves and brings on the long awaited hello to red, yellow and orange. The days in the Northern Hemisphere will continue to get shorter until the winter solstice in December.
Temperature, rain, and wind affect the speed of the color transformation and the length of the leaf show. “Ideal foliage is produced by a warm and wet spring, typical summer conditions, and mild, sunny autumn days with cool evenings (which stay above 32° Fahrenheit).” According to The Foliage Network (http://www.foliagenetwork.com.) Bring on the wonderful, non-scorching autumn days we have been longing for and the cool, but not freezing, nights!
Since the idyllic autumn days are usually here and gone in the blink of an eye, be intentional about noticing the changing landscape. If you are planning a getaway starring the colors of fall, browse some of the websites and apps dedicated to tracking fall foliage across the U.S. and reporting the dates of peak color in different locations. Search fall foliage online. The Foliage Network website describes how its foliage reports are compiled during the months of September, October, and November. “The Foliage Network collects data from our foliage spotters twice a week. This data is collected, plotted, and analyzed by The Foliage Network. The end result is The Foliage Network Report, which is used by travelers to find the best foliage conditions.”
While the trees are showing off so are the “weeds.” Take a walk along a country road or any place where the wild things grow. Look for nature’s fall floral design combinations. Wild sumac has the brightest red leaf color in the fall of any plant I’ve seen in our region. Unfortunately, they fall off quickly. But the sumac show is not over. The sturdy stalks resemble a giant candelabra as they support large, burgundy candle flame-shaped seed heads. On the edges of fields, the last blooming morning glory vines climb the tan cornstalks. The true-blue blooms mimic the October sky and contrast with the yellow corn peeping out of the dried shuck. The humble poke salad plant may still be sporting a few dark purple berries that the birds have missed, but its look-at-me feature is its bright fuchsia stems. It makes a pretty combination when paired, as it often is in fence rows, with the bright yellow plumes of goldenrod.
Our region experiences all four seasons, but our fall is short. Don’t delay getting outdoors. Feel the refreshing change in the air on your skin, listen to the crunch of leaves underfoot, soak up the sights and smells of autumn. West Tennessee and western Kentucky inhabitants survived another long, sweltering summer without actually melting away into a puddle of sweat. We deserve to slow down and take in the most wonderful time of the year—fall.