Why fall foliage came later this year

Published: Nov. 12, 2021 at 8:39 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - October is a crucial month for the Mid-Atlantic fall foliage, but this year, tree leaves have changed their colors later in the season.

Not only that, but the ordinarily vibrant red, orange and yellow colors peppering the treelines are now muted and duller.

Stephanie Spera, a professor of geography and the environment at the University of Richmond, says that trees are not getting their typical cues to stop photosynthesizing and change color.

“They get two cues: Day length and temperature,” said Spera. “Daylight doesn’t change, they get cued by that. But trees need to be told it’s cold out - stop photosynthesizing. And they don’t have the cue because it’s so much warmer.”

According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, last month was the 4th warmest October on record in Richmond based on the month’s average temperatures.

“The leaves had no idea fall was starting,” said Spera. “So, they are not going to shut down photosynthesis.”

Spera also says that due to climate change, the years with vibrant leaf colors that Richmond has gotten in the past won’t happen as frequently as the growing season lasts longer into autumn.

“I hope we get those years; I love those years,” she said. “I think that we can just expect fewer of those years in the future.”

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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