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Fall Foliage Report from Virginia State Parks

 

fall view at Bull Mountain Overlook at Fairy Stone State Park
Fall 2021 view at Bull Mountain Overlook at Fairy Stone State Park

All across Virginia this fall, you can enjoy the autumn landscape as the foliage of deciduous trees responds to the changing season. Thanks to our commonwealth’s varying elevations from mountains to shore, we have a long fall foliage season, starting earliest in the higher elevations and moving eastward. Fall colors generally peak between October 10 and October 31; however, these dates can vary from year to year, based on factors such as temperature and rainfall.

What You’ll Learn

Here at Virginia State Parks, we are happy to clue you in to the progress with our annual Fall Foliage Report on our website. We will also post highlights and images on the website and in our newsletter every Thursday beginning October 6. Participating parks will share the color changes they’re observing that week. For example, beeches turn from yellow to orange, dogwoods move from red to maroon, and hickory trees transition from gold to bronze. They’ll recommend the best places within their park to see color, and let you know of any special events that make it a great park to visit that week.

fall view over Bear Creek Lake
Autumn view at Bear Creek Lake in October 2021

Some of the parks we expect to hear from this fall are Southwest Virginia MuseumFairy StoneDouthatHigh Bridge TrailSeven BendsShenandoah RiverLeesylvaniaSky Meadows and Machicomoco State Parks. There may be more, too!

Why Leaves Change Color

Why do leaves change color, anyway? Actually, most leaf colors are already in the plant leaf. Chlorophyll gives leaves their familiar green color, while carotenoids produce yellow, orange and brown shades.There are also anthocyanins that add color to red apples, blueberries, cherries, strawberries and plums. They are water soluble and appear in the watery liquid of leaf cells.

red maples at Leesylvania State Park
Red maples at Leesylvania State Park in November 2021

During the spring and summer growing seasons, chlorophyll is produced and broken down, and leaves appear green. As days get shorter, chlorophyll production slows down until it stops. The green color is no longer visible, and the carotenoids that were present all along are then revealed. During autumn, bright light and excess plant sugars produce the red anthocyanins within leaf cells, adding to the range of color possibilities.

Calendar and Weather Effects

Day length and weather determine when leaf color begins to change and when the leaves fall from the trees. Longer, cooler nights trigger the processes that lead to fall color. The variations in color from year to year are a factor of weather conditions – mainly moisture and temperature – that also vary. A drought or an extended wet spell can each affect fall color. The combination of a warm, wet spring, no summer drought and warm, sunny fall days seems to result in the brightest leaf color. Cool nights trigger a gradual closing of tiny tubes connecting the leaves with the rest of the tree, and once those tubes close completely, the leaves fall off.

Share Your Shots

This fall season, find new ways to connect with nature and get outdoors for some fresh air. You can take a hike, ride a bike or even birdwatch. Whatever adventure you choose, be sure to share your Virginia State Park photos on social media by using the hashtag #VaStateParks and #FallinVirginia. We want you to join the online conversation!

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