California Fall Color
Dude, autumn happens here, too.

Special Report: Why Do Leaves Change Color?

     Posted on August 30, 2016 by John Poimiroo
Chlorophyll Molecule (Wikipedia)

Chlorophyll Molecule (Wikipedia)

We explain this each autumn and now is as good a time as any to describe it, once more.

It is the combination of shorter days and colder temperatures that cause leaves on deciduous trees to change color.

Throughout spring and summer, green chlorophyll (which allows trees to absorb sunlight and produce nutrients) is made and replaced constantly. However, as days grow shorter, “cells near the juncture of the leaf and stem divide rapidly but do not expand,” reports Accuweather.com, “This action of the cells form a layer called the abscission layer. The abscission layer then blocks the transportation of materials from the leaf to the branch and from the roots to the leaves. As Chlorophyll is blocked from the leaves, it disappears completely from them.”

That’s when vivid yellow xanthophylls, orange carotenoids and red and purple anthocyanins emerge.

Orange is found in leaves with lots of beta-carotene, a compound that absorbs blue and green light and reflects yellow and red light, giving the leaves their orange color.

Yellow comes from Xanthophylls and Flavonols that reflect yellow light. Xanthophylls are compounds and Flavonols are proteins.  They’re what give egg yolks their color.

Though always present in the leaves, Carotenoids and Xanthophylls are not visible until Chlorophyll production slows.

Red comes from the Anthocyanin compound. It protects the leaf in autumn, prolonging its life. Anthocyanins are pigments manufactured from the sugars trapped in the leaf, giving term to the expression that the leaves are sugaring up.

The best fall color occurs when days are warm and nights are clear and cold. California’s cloudless skies and extreme range of elevations (sea level to 14,000′) provide ideal conditions for the development of consistently vivid fall color, as seen in these reports.

Go Fly A Kite!

     Posted on August 26, 2016 by John Poimiroo
Eastern Sierra Kite Festival

Eastern Sierra Kite Festival

Walker, Calif. is the location of the first Eastern Sierra Kite Festival on the weekend of Sept. 17 and 18.

Colorful kites will be competing, demonstrated, built and displayed at this visual and fun event.

That’s great timing for a trip to Virginia Lakes, off Conway Summit, where color should be approaching peak.

Early peak color may also be near peak then at Tuolumne Meadows in eastern Yosemite National Park.

And, if you arrive from the south, a trip up Bishop Creek Canyon should be rewarding that week.

CLICK HERE or HERE, for more about the festival.

The Low Down on Down Low

     Posted on August 25, 2016 by John Poimiroo
Chinese pistache, Watsonville (8/21/16) Chuck Eads

Chinese pistache, Watsonville (8/21/16) Chuck Eads

For the past week and a half, we’ve received a flush of reports of near peak fall color appearing down low (Oakland, Berkeley, Watsonville, Salinas, San Diego), though spots of color have been reported up high, too (Eastern Sierra, San Bernardino Mountains).

So, what’s the low down on color that’s down low?

Almost all the early peak color seen at lower elevations so far (with the exception of Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve in San Diego) has appeared on non-native trees, whereas native trees appear to be developing normally.

Every year, we get reports of trees with early color.  Often the trees happen to be exotics (non-native), like the liquidambar that LA Leaf Peeper reported as fringed with red in June.

Does this mean an earlier autumn? We suspect not. Early change is more likely a product of a particular environment, locale or specie, than it is a harbinger of an early autumn, statewide.

Our recommendation to see the best color is to plan travel to see fall color in California, as normally.  The best way to do this is to use this site as a research tool, by looking back at the area you want to visit (category) or date when you plan to visit (archives).

Notice when the color was at peak at a given location during the past five years, then pick an average date for past peaks, or find locations where it was peaking when you can travel and go there.

With either approach, your choice should be very close to peak color. And, that’s the low down on traveling to see the best fall color in California.

Near Peak (50-75%) – Watsonville Community Hospital (Go Now!)

First Report: Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve

     Posted on August 24, 2016 by John Poimiroo
California sycamore, Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve (8/21/16) Sweetshade Lane

California sycamore, Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve (8/21/16) Sweetshade Lane

Color spotter Sweetshade Lane tweeted seeing subtle color at Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve in San Diego, thereby scoring the first “First Report” of the season.

California sycamore, Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve (8/21/16) Sweetshade Lane

California sycamore, Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve (8/21/16) Sweetshade Lane

Frémont cottonwood, Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve (8/21/16) Sweetshade Lane

Frémont cottonwood, Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve (8/21/16) Sweetshade Lane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The preserve covers some 4,000 acres in the Peñasquitos (meaning little cliffs) and Lopez canyons of San Diego. It is an area with stark beauty and prehistoric cultural sites that date back over 7,000 years.

Los Peñasquitos Canyon was part of the first Mexican land grant in San Diego County. Tours of the historic Santa Maria de Los Peñasquitos Adobe are available to school groups and the public.

The canyon is renowned as a nature preserve containing geologic formations, over 500 plant species including several landmark trees and 175 birds, as well as many reptiles, amphibians and mammals.

Los Peñasquitos Canyon’s Frémont cottonwood have begun revealing golden leaves, while the twisted limbs of California sycamore are laden with equally twisted chartreuse and rose-colored leaves, providing sculptural detail to the scene.

Just Starting (0-10%) – Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve

 

Berkeley Already?

     Posted on August 24, 2016 by John Poimiroo
Tilden Park, Berkeley (8/23/16) Sandy Steinman

Tilden Park, Berkeley (8/23/16) Sandy Steinman

Red isn’t supposed to be seen in Berkeley until Stanford visits for The Big Game. Yet, Natural History Wandering’s Sandy Steinman sent colorful shots of crimson, coral and rose foliage blushing at the Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Berkeley’s Tilden Park.

He even found a summer holly (Comarostaphylis diversifolia) carrying bright lime, yellow, orange and red berries.

Check out Sandy’s newly updated national and California fall color pages (Blogroll at left). There’s lots of great info on his blog to inspire wandering in search of fall color.

Just Starting (0-10%) – Berkeley

Tilden Park, Berkeley (8/23/16) Sandy Steinman

Comarostaphyllis diversifolia, Tilden Park, Berkeley (8/23/16) Sandy Steinman

Tilden Park, Berkeley (8/23/16) Sandy Steinman

Tilden Park, Berkeley (8/23/16) Sandy Steinman

Tilden Park, Berkeley (8/23/16) Sandy Steinman

Tilden Park, Berkeley (8/23/16) Sandy Steinman

Tilden Park, Berkeley (8/23/16) Sandy Steinman

Tilden Park, Berkeley (8/23/16) Sandy Steinman

Tilden Park, Berkeley (8/23/16) Sandy Steinman

Tilden Park, Berkeley (8/23/16) Sandy Steinman

 

 

 

NBC Bay Area Ready for Foliage

     Posted on August 23, 2016 by John Poimiroo
NBC Bay Area

NBC Bay Area

Always an encouraging sign is when other media notice our reports.  NBC Bay Area is one of them.

Posted this week on their blog (which is consistently on top of trends) was the declaration from blogger Alysia Gray Painter that though “the autumn equinox is still a month off… a popular leaf-peeping blog (hey, that’s us!) is up and running for 2016.”

OK, so we’re “popular” but not yet trending. Nonetheless, that’s still about as early a nod as California Fall Color has ever gotten.

Could it be that more than we are anxious to see autumn arrive?

Sierra Nevada Tree Identifier

     Posted on August 23, 2016 by John Poimiroo
Sierra Nevada Tree Identifier, Jim Paruk

Sierra Nevada Tree Identifier, Jim Paruk

Jim Paruk’s Sierra Nevada Tree Identifier is an indispensable tool for fall color photographers and viewers.

The 126-page book includes black and white illustrations by Elizabeth Morales (needles, leaves, fruit, nuts, flowers/bracts, cones and pods) and detailed descriptions of 44 native trees found in the Sierra Nevada.

Paruk points out that “By knowing your approximate altitude, field identification of certain trees can be greatly simplified,” noting that “similarly-appearing sugar and western white pines grow at different elevations (the sugar pine is lower).”

The book is particularly helpful in identifying cone-bearing trees (pine, nutmeg, yew, fir, hemlock, cedar, sequoia and juniper), though for the fall color viewer, it is helpful in separating broad-leaved trees, as well. Of particular help is the section on willows, whose leaves are identical to the untrained eye.

An important omission, however, is any description of fall color to be seen in the leaves. Paruk fails to specify colors commonly displayed by Sierra Nevada trees (e.g., California black oak leaves turn orange in autumn).

Published by the Yosemite Conservancy, the book is available at Amazon.com and is sold at the California Welcome Center in Mammoth Lakes for $9.95.

First Report: Fall Is In The Air at Oak Glen

     Posted on August 22, 2016 by John Poimiroo
Oak Glen (8/21/16) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (8/21/16) Alena Nicholas

San Bernardino Mountains color spotter Alena Nicholas visited Oak Glen in the San Gorgonio Range, yesterday.  Her report shows that fall is definitely in the air.

Oak Glen (8/21/16) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (8/21/16) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (8/21/16) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (8/21/16) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (8/21/16) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (8/21/16) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (8/21/16) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (8/21/16) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (8/21/16) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (8/21/16) Alena Nicholas

Alena’s drive was above the “snow line” area of Oak Glenn Preserve (First Report) where color is nice in areas up high, but still pretty green down lower. She reported that hikers are out enjoying the cooler temperatures, diners and shoppers are enjoying the mountains’ restaurants and stores, and there are workers in the orchards and farms. Alena added that there are not nearly as many visitors now, “as during the ‘Harvest’ time, but still a good number all the same.”

Alena took these images with a cell phone.  She apologizes that the quality “isn’t all that good, but at least can give you an idea.” Though we note that today’s Apple and Samsung mobile phones take lovely photos, as these illustrate.

What Alena is mentioning is that while the exposures and color are good, the definition is less than found in a camera with a larger sensor and lens. Still, we welcome seeing photos taken with cell phones, as some very good photography is being taken with them.

Just Starting (0-10%) – San Bernardino Mountains/San Gorgonio Range

Oakland: Yellow and Green in Fall, but Red?

     Posted on August 19, 2016 by John Poimiroo
Sycamore line Trestle Glen, Oakland (8/19/16) Darrell Sano

Sycamore line Trestle Glen, Oakland (8/19/16) Darrell Sano

We know Oakland sports yellow and green in August, as those are the colors of the town’s baseball team, the Athletics, but red?

Color spotter Darrell Sano took an eight-mile hike “from downtown Oakland to the foothills of my neighborhood, Montclair. While I wouldn’t say it’s fall color time here, there is a tinge of color on many trees and shrubs, and it feels like autumn for sure.”

Chinese pistache, Oakland (8/19/16) Darrell Sano

Chinese pistache, Oakland (8/19/16) Darrell Sano

Japanese maple, Oakland (8/19/16) Darrell Sano

Japanese maple, Oakland (8/19/16) Darrell Sano

Liquidambar, Oakland (8/19/16) Darrell Sano

Liquidambar, Oakland (8/19/16) Darrell Sano

The photos Darrell sent are startling, as the trees are showing quite a bit of early color for a part of California that is often among the last to peak.

Of course, all of the showy deciduous trees in Oakland are exotics (Japanese maple, Chinese pistache, sycamore, liquidambar), so there’s no telling what clock they’re on.

Darrell said he would have missed the color had he been driving. Instead, he encourages “walking and meandering’ your hometown, like “hiking in the Sierra.”

What is remarkable, is that Darrell noted, “The light quality has changed, adding warmth to everything, as well as increasing backlit contrast.” He “used a very short 18-55mm telephoto lens” which mean he had to walk up to the color and observe it in order to fully appreciate the early display within Oakland’s neighborhoods.

He reported that nearly turned sycamore line Trestle Glen in Oakland, and that “some leaf raking has already begun!”

Chinese pistache, Oakland (8/19/16) Darrell Sano

Chinese pistache, Oakland (8/19/16) Darrell Sano

His pictures show spots of fluorescent red among the Chinese pistache, with the forbidden color (red-green) – so called because it is not perceptible to the color-blind – emerging with florid edges on the pistache bleeding into the green.  

Oakland homes laden with Boston ivy are also warming up, with about half turned red, so far.

Remarkable, and it’s not yet September! Ånd, aren’t Oakland’s September colors supposed to be yellow and green? 

Just Starting (0-10%) – Oakland

Scouting Report: Eastern Sierra

     Posted on August 18, 2016 by John Poimiroo
Aspen, South Lake (8/15/16) John Poimiroo

Aspen, South Lake (8/15/16) John Poimiroo

Aspen, Parcher's Resort (8/15/16) John Poimiroo

Aspen, Parcher’s Resort (8/15/16) John Poimiroo

Spots of bright yellow have begun to appear in a few aspen and willows at high elevations in the Eastern Sierra (U.S. 395) from Bishop Creek to Carson Pass (CA-88).

This is normal and does not indicate an early autumn show, though the overall health and robust green color of the aspen forest is encouraging. Conditions permitting, the fall color display in the Eastern Sierra should be as good as ever.

The Eastern Sierra aspen forest is mostly devoid of black leaf spot fungus, as was prevalent in the Northern Sierra last autumn. Though, willows, particularly at higher elevations, are dusted with yellow-orange rust fungus, and some aspen leaves carry nipple galls (small cream-colored bulges that contain insect larvae). The rust and galls will have inconsequential effect on the show, however.

More of a threat to California fall color has been the decline of native lady bugs (replaced by imported foreign varieties), as lady bugs are voracious consumers of aphids which can destroy aspen leaves and their color.

Aphids do not kill aspen, but they do reduce their autumn beauty. An Alpine County resident said she’s noticed a larger than normal number of aphids, as evidenced by the honeydew they drip on cars and deck furniture.

Aspen, Parcher's Resort (8/15/16) John Poimiroo

Aspen, Parcher’s Resort (8/15/16) John Poimiroo

Willows, South Lake (8/15/16) John Poimiroo

Willows, South Lake (8/15/16) John Poimiroo

South Lake (8/15/16) John Poimiroo

South Lake (8/15/16) John Poimiroo

Mist Falls, Bishop Creek Canyon (8/15/16) John Poimiroo

Mist Falls, Bishop Creek Canyon (8/15/16) John Poimiroo

0-10% – Just Starting – Bishop Creek Canyon and the Owens Valley – At Parcher’s Resort near South Lake, Jared Smith was encouraged by the high lake levels, which will provide brightly colored reflections at South, Sabrina and North Lake.

He reported that bright spots of yellow began appearing this week high up along the east canyon wall and among the willow.

In Bishop, towering cottonwood flanking the Owens River are verdant and seemingly unaware that autumn is approaching.

Twin Lakes, Mammoth Lakes (8/16/18) John Poimiroo

Twin Lakes, Mammoth Lakes (8/16/18) John Poimiroo

0-10% – Just Starting – Mammoth Lakes Basin – Similar spots of color are seen in the Lakes Basin at Mammoth Lakes. Mammoth Lakes’ many paved bike paths were full of families out for a ride through green groves of aspen. Mammoth Lakes Tourism is putting heightened emphasis on fall events, activities, festivals, programs and fall color reporting, this year, including locals recommending their favorite fall color hikes and rides. Mammoth Lakes Tourism has dedicated a page on their website to fall with new features and special offers.

June Lake (8/17/18) John Poimiroo

June Lake (8/17/18) John Poimiroo

Aspen, Virginia Lakes Rd (8/17/16) John Poimiroo

Aspen, Conway Summit (8/17/16) John Poimiroo

Aspen, Virginia Lakes Rd (8/17/16) John Poimiroo

Aspen, Conway Summit (8/17/16) John Poimiroo

Virginia Lakes Rd (8/17/16) John Poimiroo

Virginia Lakes Rd (8/17/16) John Poimiroo

Virginia Lakes Resort (8/17/16) John Poimiroo

Virginia Lakes Resort (8/17/16) John Poimiroo

Summer berries and lupine, Virginia Lakes Rd (8/17/16) John Poimiroo

Summer berries and lupine, Virginia Lakes Rd (8/17/16) John Poimiroo

Rabbitbrush, aspen, Virginia Lakes Rd (8/17/16) John Poimiroo

Rabbitbrush, aspen, Virginia Lakes Rd (8/17/16) John Poimiroo

0-10% – Just Starting – June Lake, Conway Summit, Virginia Lakes – No color is yet evident near June Lake or Conway Summit, where aspen are uniformly green. However, up toward Virginia Lakes, the change has started. Carolyn Webb of the Virginia Lakes Resort said “a burn (quick freeze) came through this past week, followed by spots of yellow appearing along the road.”

The color isn’t evident driving to the Virginia Lakes, but it is on the return when leaves are backlit by the sun.

Golden rabbit brush are beginning to bloom beside purple lupine beside the Virginia Lakes Road. For the coming month, the combination of early fall color and late blooming wildflowers can be seen at high elevations in the Eastern Sierra.

0-10% – Just Starting – Walker River and Antelope Valley – At Meadowcliff Lodge, north of Walker, Tim Fesko is still in summer season mode, too busy to notice early emerging fall color, though he is optimistic about the potential for this autumn’s display, noting how much rain and snow fell last winter.

0-10% – Just Starting – Monitor Pass – Hints of yellow are emerging as aspen lose their chlorophyll are seen in groves on the east side of Monitor Pass (CA-89) and beside the upper forks of the Carson River.

Markleeville Creek (8/17/18) John Poimiroo

Markleeville Creek (8/17/18) John Poimiroo

Black cottonwood, Markleeville Creek (8/17/18) John Poimiroo

Black cottonwood, Markleeville Creek (8/17/18) John Poimiroo

0-10% – Just Starting – Markleeville – Black cottonwood at the Markleeville Heritage and Nature Park are dark green, healthy and ready to reveal their golden color.

0-10% – Just Starting – Hope Valley and Carson Pass – Continuing north, the Hope Valley and Carson Pass (CA-88) have a mix of stressed (light green) to robust (dark green) aspen, though overall the forest is doing better. John Brissenden at Sorensen’s Resort near the junction of CA-88 and CA-89, was encouraged by the improved vitality of Hope Valley’s aspen groves.  Again, this area should expect a strong show of color this autumn.

The take away from this scouting trip is that Eastern Sierra deciduous trees and shrubs are healthy, robust and prime for a great show this fall.