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Foliage season coming a little early this year

Autumn Colors Arrive

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry A few Warren County trees, like this one in North Warren are starting to color already thanks to extreme weather conditions in the spring and summer.

There should be plenty of fall foliage to enjoy this season, but the timing will be a little off.

“People have already started commenting to me that they have seen some of the leaves start to change,” Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Cornplanter District Forester Cecile Stelter said. “They were a little concerned.”

“Some trees are actually dropping their leaves,” Stelter said. “It is a little early.”

There is no cause for alarm. The trees are responding individually to unusual weather conditions from the spring and summer and there will be bright colors on trees.

“We had a very early and dry spring,” Stelter said. “Usually in March we still have wet weather… snow on the ground. We did not have any of that.”

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Extreme weather in the spring and fall has resulted in some Warren County trees, like this one in North Warren, losing leaves early.

“We didn’t have any late freezes or late-spring frost,” she said.

The trees took those indicators and went to work. “Trees leafed out early,” she said.

Then, conditions were very wet in the early summer.

Then, it got hot.

“Trees like consistency,” Stelter said. This year was a “season of extremes… a lot of variability.”

“That has caused the trees processes to start to transition to dormancy a little earlier this year,” she said. “It’s nothing to be alarmed about.”

Some trees have developed some fungus or spores related to very wet conditions during a portion of the summer. Those trees may drop their leaves early.

Some leaves are falling earlier than normal due to dry conditions.

Trees that dry out too much cut their losses, Stelter said. If the junction where the leaf meets the tree dries out too much, that leaf will more easily fall off, allowing the tree’s energies to be focused on healthier locations.

There are plenty of trees that retained their leaves and will go through the dormancy process at about the usual time.

“We’re starting to see some color,” Stelter said. “We’re seeing the warm, sunny days and starting to get some cooler nights.”

Peak season is just around the corner.

“If we don’t get any kind of a freeze overnight, we’re shaping up to get some nice color,” she said. “A little early… more toward the beginning of October instead of the middle.”

How much color and when will depend on the tree. “It will be on a very individual basis this year,” Stelter said.

Pennsylvania, and northwestern Pennsylvania in particular, has an advantage.

“We have over 130 tree species — and quite a variety in our area,” Stelter said. “Even is one species drops its leaves, there will still be a lot of color and a lot of opportunity to see the fall foliage.”

“When you are dependent on fall color with one or maybe two tree species, when something happens that impacts their coloration or their duration, it tends to impact the whole forest,” she said. “Here, we have resiliency.”

She expects dogwoods, sumacs, some maples, aspen, and ash to color earlier.

Then, sugar maple, tulip poplar, and beech.

Finally, the hickories and oaks will finish out the season.

“Get out and enjoy Penn’s Woods,” Stelter said. “This is a great time to take a hike, whether it’s in the national forest, state parks and forests, or just in the tree-lined streets of Warren. Just take a walk around the neighborhood.”

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