Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, autumn colors painted the popular destination Graveyard Fields in fall 2016.
ASHEVILLE, N.C. — It might not be the most colorful forecast, but fall foliage prognosticators are calling for an “average season” in Western North Carolina. That means fall leaves might not be at their most brilliant this year, but they won’t be a bummer.
“We’ve had a fairly moderate summer with pretty good rain and no drought,” said Howard Neufeld, professor of biology at Appalachian State University, aka the “Fall color guy,” who runs a website breaking down the fall forecast.
“Temperatures have been moderate. If we have clear days into September and a succession of very cool nights and a preponderance of sunny days, that tends to bring out the red colors. Most people think it’s a good color season when the reds are bright.”
Anthocyanins, the pigment that colors red leaves as well as strawberries and most red flowers, are made from sugar, Neufeld said. A plant makes sugar through photosynthesis when it’s sunny. If it’s cloudy and rainy, there is not as much photosynthesis, meaning fewer sugars and fewer anthocyanins.
If it’s warm, the sugars are transported out of leaf to the stems and roots, so it doesn’t build up in the leaves, he said.
The lack of drought should also be favorable for trees like tulip poplar, which tend to drop their leaves early and are sensitive to dry conditions, Neufeld said. If poplars keep their leaves longer, they should display their bright yellow showiness midway through the season.
In autumn, leaf colors emerge as the green-colored chlorophyll in leaves break down, revealing yellow, orange and red pigments that were hidden by the green.
Fall color appears first in the reds of sourwoods, dogwoods and red maples. The yellow, orange and red of trees such as walnut, tulip poplar, other maples and beech and birch show up next, and the season ends with the darker reds and browns of oaks.
Neufeld, who lives in Boone, said he has already seen a couple of…