Fabulous Fall Foliage

Changing color at Van Dyke Preserve

The peak season of fabulous changing foliage will be here before you know it! The changing color of leaves is one of the most spectacular and sought-after sights in our area, drawing “leaf peepers” from all over to take in the sights throughout the northeast. 

For all those curious as to why the colors change, it is simply the slowing of activity in leaves. Let’s take a closer peek inside the functions of trees around us! Chlorophyll is the molecule in leaves that creates fuel and drives growth through a process known as photosynthesis. Chlorophyll absorbs red and violet light that provides the energy to produce food, and the light reflected gives the leaves a green appearance. Molecules called carotenoids are also present through the growing season and utilize different wavelengths of light to help with photosynthetic processes.

As chlorophyll production slows and shuts down with shorter days and less intense periods of sunlight, previously masked molecules begin to shine. The carotenoids and anthocyanins (produced later in the season) absorb different wavelengths of light and reflect yellow, orange, and red. As the chlorophyll decays, the leaves reflect dazzling yellow, orange, and red colors of underappreciated molecules.

Factors like seasonal rainfall and temperatures can affect how long the prime leaf season lasts and when it occurs. Check local publications for when the best color is happening and the NYS Dept of Economic Developments Fall Foliage Report. The Adirondacks to the north and Catskills to the south will start changing first; soon after, you’ll see the peak season in the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys.

So make some plans to take in the views! Whether you are apple picking at the MHLC conserved Indian Ladder Farms, watching the changing of the seasons from Bennett Hill, or hiking preserve trails painted with fall’s vibrant palette, we hope you get out and enjoy nature’s fabulous autumn display. Pro tip – with light further in mind, the best day for your eyes and fall photos are the overcast cloudy days that will intensify those colors! 

Learn more from the USDA Forest Service website.

For a fascinating read, check out Molecules by P. W. Atkins.

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