Commonwealth Journal

Local News

November 1, 2013

It’s official: Changing leaves means autumn is here

Somerset — It finally happened. The glory of autumn is here!

After days of delay and comments: “The leaves are not changing this fall,” foothills of the Cumberlands suddenly burst into a kaleidoscope of color. It happened at midweek, all but overnight.

But not the Magnificent Maple. We feel cheated. The majestic tree, in front the Somerset Post Office on North Maple Street, disappointed this fall. Most of its leaves fell before the colors brightened.

The stately sugar tree is on private property, but it belongs to everybody. Up to now, it has always happened. As Father Time signals the approaching end of another year, the Magnificent Maple protests the drab of winter with sassy colors no artist can paint. It’s a conversation piece.

Forget the imposing Pulaski Court of Justice. Never mind the million dollar fountain in the center of Fountain Square. The Magnificent Maple uplifts the heart of the Queen City of the Cumberlands as no bricks and mortar can do.

It’s such a haughty tree. The spreading canopy uniquely retains a background of green, highlighting the startling orange-red. A trunk scarred with age lifts boughs cosmetically in the prime of life.

That is, until this autumn. It didn’t happen. It’s not going to happen. The top half of the tree is bare. Most of the leaves have fallen, despite the skirt of the canopy making a feeble effort to show off.

We didn’t photograph the tree for this story. It wouldn’t be right. Don’t kick a pretty trunk when its down. The Magnificent Maple will do better next year.

Why is the peak of fall colors in this part of Appalachia so late this year? Normally colors are best beginning the third week in October.

There are differences of opinion about lateness of color this fall.

Beth Wilson, Extension specialist for horticulture in  Pulaski County, says it may be a lack of consistency in temperature.

“We’ve had a couple of really cold nights, but not many,” Wilson said.

Speculation on the Internet is that lateness of the colors is due to global warming.

The Bible seems to disagree about the earth getting warmer. It debunks the old wives’ tale that there will come a time when you can’t tell winter from summer except by falling of the leaves. That’s not in the Bible.

But this is: “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” –– Genesis 8:22. That is God’s promise after the Great Flood.

A United States Department of Agriculture says “ ... for years, scientists have worked to understand changes that happen to trees and shrubs in autumn.

“Timing of color change and leaf fall are primarily regulated by the calendar, that is, the increasing length of night. None of the other environmental influences –– temperature, rainfall, food supply, and so on –– is as unvarying as the steadily increasing length of night during autumn.”

Wikipedia says a green leaf is green because of the presence of a pigment known as chlorophyll. Chlorophylls' green color dominates and masks out the colors of any other pigments that may be present in the leaf. Thus the leaves of summer are characteristically green.

  Chlorophyll has a vital function, capturing solar rays and utilizing the resulting energy in the manufacture of the plant's food — simple sugars which are produced from water and carbon dioxide. These sugars are the basis of the plant's nourishment — the sole source of the carbohydrates needed for growth and development.

  In their food-manufacturing process, chlorophylls break down and thus are being continually "used up". During the growing season, however, the plant replenishes the chlorophyll so that the supply remains high and the leaves stay green.

  In late summer, as daylight hours shorten and temperatures cool, the veins that carry fluids into and out of the leaf are gradually closed off as a layer of special cork cells forms at the base of each leaf. As this cork layer develops, water and mineral intake into the leaf is reduced, slowly at first, and then more rapidly. It is during this time that chlorophyll begins to decrease and colors of autumn are unmasked, says Wikipedia.

 The special cork cells at the base of each leaf loosens its hold on its twig. Then, winds and rains of November rake the canopy, sending even the last leaf swirling to the ground.

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