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Leaf Season in Asheville

Oct 01, 2015 | Last Updated Mar 11, 2021
398 words (2 min read)

What Determines Fall Color?

The intensity of fall color and time of peak color vary and are determined by complex environmental factors, as well as the genetic makeup of the plants themselves. The "best" fall color for an area occurs during the shortening days of autumn when days are bright, sunny and cool, when nights are cool but not below freezing, and when there has been ideal rainfall. Adequate rainfall also keeps the leaves on the trees longer and enhances the color. Wet, cloudy, warm weather or exceptionally low temperatures in early fall tend to mute the much anticipated autumnal display.

With that being said, according to Kathy Mathews, an associate professor of biology at WCU, “This fall (2015) could be one of the best leaf color seasons in Western North Carolina in recent memory,” Mathews said. “Three words explain it – unusually dry weather.”

The best way to see the full effect of fall color is to take a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Drivers have no choice but to enjoy the fall colors, as the speed limit is a strictly enforced 45 mph, lowering to 25 mph at some steep curves. The Parkway includes east- and west-facing slopes, and varies in elevation from just under 650 feet at James River in Virginia, to over 6,000 feet south of Mt. Pisgah in North Carolina.

Many visitors have been frustrated trying to go to one spot on one day in October, hoping to find the leaves in full color. A far better plan is to drive some distance on the Parkway, changing elevations and north-south orientation. Anyone who does this around mid to late October will likely catch at least some sections at or very near their peak color.

Peak Color

The foliage-viewing season begins at the end of September, when the leaves of dogwood, sourwood, and black gum trees turn deep red. Yellow poplars and hickories then burst into yellow, while maples bring red and sassafras turn orange. During October, the route's peak visiting month, drivers will be joined by plenty of other leaf-peepers, as thousands of visitors jam the highway (especially on weekends) to get a glimpse of the scarlet sourwoods, orange sassafras, and golden poplars on display before a green canvas of southern Appalachian conifers. Finally, in late October, at the end of the season, oaks add a touch of brown and deeper reds.

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