What kind of season lies ahead for those who love to go leaf peeping? While this is always an intriguing question, it's one that often has the answer, “it depends.”
It depends on the weather that we in Pennsylvania get in late summer and early fall as well as the area of the state you are in and the general health of the forest. Even in a "lesser" year, though, Pennsylvania still provides a very consistent and stunning show.
In fact, the state is quite possibly the best place on earth to take in the fall color. Here’s why: Pennsylvania’s location between the 40 and 42 North latitude and its varied topography from sea level on the coastal plain to over 3,000 feet in the Laurel Highlands supports 134 species of trees—and many more shrubs and vines that contribute to the autumn display.
Pennsylvania is the meeting ground of northern trees that flourish only on mountain tops farther south and southern species that are at the northern limits of their range. Gray and paper birch, mountain maple, and mountain ash from the north share Penn’s Woods with southern red oak, sweet-bay and umbrella magnolias, sourwood, persimmon, and sweetgum from the south.
Ohio buckeye, bur oak, and shingle oak—common to the Mississippi Valley—are at the eastern edge of their range on the Allegheny Plateau.
The state’s abundant hardwoods are also interspersed with evergreens such as white pine, pitch pine, and hemlock which help provide some contrasting green to the kaleidoscope of other colors ranging from gold and brilliant scarlet to bright orange and deep purple to many hues of yellow.
Not only is Pennsylvania at just the right location on the map for dazzling fall color, but it was blessed with a conservation heritage that set the stage for the show we enjoy each autumn.
Visionaries like Gifford Pinchot, Joseph Rothrock, Mira Lloyd Dock, Maurice Goddard, and others rallied for the protection and preservation of forests and due to their efforts we are blessed with millions of acres of public lands to enjoy the show.
This important work continues today with Gov. Wolf’s Green Ribbon Task Force. The Task Force looks at ways to promote forest conservation while expanding economic benefits to the Commonwealth that come from healthy and diverse forests.
Our forests provide some of the finest quality hardwoods on earth and support a thriving forest products industry. They are meccas for a wide range of outdoor recreation and provide habitat for a great array of plant and animal species.
So back to the question of just what is in store for this autumn? The extreme heat of this summer will likely have little effect on fall color.
Drought conditions though can have a bigger impact as sometimes drought can cause trees to drop their leaves without changing. This is often the result of the leaves dying due to lack of water rather than the more normal gradual formation of a barrier within the leaf that blocks water movement and initiates the color change in fall.
Some parts of the state may be impacted slightly from the drought conditions that were experienced but overall we can expect another great show.
Colors will be most vibrant if we get cool evenings this autumn that are followed by warm sunny days. Some of the best places to really soak it all in are found in our state parks and state forests.
Many state forest ridge tops feature scenic vistas where the viewer can see for miles on a clear day. Many state park lakes are surrounded by forests and it is hard to beat the experience of seeing the brilliant fall foliage reflected on the calmness of a large body of water.
DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry tracks the fall foliage conditions across the state on the web. Visitors to the site can see where and when the best viewing conditions will occur and when the fall foliage colors will peak in their area.
Pennsylvania is a state blessed with abundant forests that feature a great diversity in species which provide one of the greatest shows nature has to offer.
It was also blessed with people who had the foresight to protect and ensure the future of our forest resources. Be sure to make time to get out there and enjoy the fall colors this year!
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