Visual arts

Fall in love with Carroll County in the fall – Baltimore Sun

This is the time of year when many people travel far to see the colors of the fall trees. Several years ago my family took an October trip to the Great Smoky Mountains – mostly to take time off and hike. The brilliant fall leaf colors were definitely an added bonus, but admittedly they were an afterthought. Much to my dismay, I apparently didn’t get the memo stating how crowded it gets in the Great Smoky Mountains when the fall colors are on display. However, we had a great trip. I took some great photos, learned a fascinating story, and really enjoyed the family time. I was very happy with the photos.

After arriving home, we took a long walk on the Wakefield Valley Trail, which took us to Wakefield Valley Park. The scenery was spectacular. I shook my head – why on earth did I drive many miles and many hours to find fall foliage no better than what we have here in Westminster and Carroll County. Plus, as many people find out, the birding in Wakefield Valley Park is amazing. Plus, Carroll County has the best restaurants in the area. I’ve stayed in nice hotels over the years, but I’ve never spent the night in a hotel as nice as my home.

There is arguably no better season in Carroll County than fall. That’s when, for a short time, the trees are allowed to take action and show extra passion by dressing up in a dazzling wardrobe of colors.

When someone approached me recently to write about fall foliage in Carroll County, my response was that I had written about fall colors before. The response was, “Well Kevin, but the leaves in Carroll County are pretty every year.” Well, ok. I may be a retired horticulturist, but trees are still one of my favorite subjects. Thus, portions of this discussion have previously appeared in The Baltimore Sun. This thread is back by popular demand.

Often when I’m running or hiking this time of year, I think of the Mamas and Papas’ 1966 hit song, “California Dreaming,” in which they sing, “All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray.” However, here Mother Nature transitions into winter with brilliant yellows, oranges, purples and reds in the trees.

Sykesville, MD - 10/27/15 - Two anglers try their luck on Liberty Reservoir as the fall foliage reaches its peak colors.  Robert K. Hamilton/Baltimore Sun (Robert K. Hamilton/Baltimore Sun)

A point that has not escaped my artist friend Susan Williamson, the former coordinator of visual arts at the Carroll County Arts Center. “Artists use the colors of nature as inspiration for their own palette. There’s no better time to watch Mother Nature change her palette than in the fall for the exquisite colors of Carroll County. Our rolling hills provide a variety of virtual canvases to show off the changing colors of fall.

In fact, trees have this brilliant wardrobe of colors tucked away in the closet all spring and summer. While it’s widely believed that cooler weather brings out all those beautiful shades of red, yellow, purple and brown, temperature is only a small part of the intricate palette that the great sky painter used to color trees.

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Admittedly, the cold and frost play a role in the intensity of the colors, but the main factor is the length of the day. Trees and the leaf food-making process are very sensitive to the amount of light they receive, and as the days get shorter, a whole cascade of chemical and hormonal events begin.

In fact, the trees stop “growing” around June. At that time, they set the next year’s leaf buds and begin to plan for the following spring. For the rest of the summer, the trees stay busy making and storing food, in the form of complex sugars called carbohydrates, to support the next year’s growth. Food is stored in the branches, roots and buds of the tree.

The main leader of the food preparation process in spring and summer is chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is actually a generic name for a member of the tetrapyrrole family of organic compounds. It is the green-colored photoreceptor of light energy in the food-making process called photosynthesis.

The organic compound chlorophyll is constantly being made and replaced throughout the spring and summer. It only uses the red and blue wavelengths of sunlight to prepare dietary sugars. The leaf’s green color actually serves to protect the food manufacturing process from excessive exposure to ultraviolet light.

The Wakefield Valley Community Trail in Westminster is arguably one of the best places to enjoy fall in Carroll County.  Photo from October 7, 2013 courtesy of Kevin Dayhoff

As the nights get longer, there is not enough sunlight available for efficient food manufacturing, plant hormones – the plant’s administrators – cause a layer of abscission at the bottom of the sheet, preventing raw materials from entering the sheet. Since no raw ingredients make it to the leaf, the chlorophyll begins to fatigue and break down.

As the chlorophyll disappears, the presence of the other pigments is revealed, said Steve Allgeier, the retired horticulturist with the Carroll County office of the University of Maryland Extension. “Chlorophyll normally masks yellow pigments called xanthophylls and orange pigments called carotenoids. Red and purple pigments come from anthocyanins.

When he’s not driving through the countryside taking in the fall colors of Carroll County, Kevin Dayhoff can be reached at the [email protected]