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Fall Foliage and Festival Report: September 9 and 10

Defenders Day Celebration at North Point, Woodmont Lodge Open House

Lone man fishing from rock in early autumn

Solitude by Joseph Halpin

Welcome to the Fall Foliage and Festival Report for Sept. 9 and 10, brought to you by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Maryland Office of Tourism.

It’s been a long, hot summer in the mid-Atlantic but with just a handful of days left, Marylanders will begin to sense the changing season – shorter days, longer nights, fatter crabs, football, chirping crickets – and one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the autumn season, the appearance of fall foliage.

“Autumn seasons with a lot of sunny days and cold nights will have the brightest colors.”

Starting next week, we will provide updates to highlight where you can go each week to enjoy the best of Maryland’s glorious fall foliage at its peak, along with a sampling of great seasonal events. Sign up today to receive weekly reports showcasing the Old Line State’s vibrant fall foliage and the best autumn festivals or call 800-LEAVES1.

If you just can’t wait to get started, perhaps head over to Upper Marlboro for the annual Prince George’s County Fair, which features live animals, food, music, carnival games and much, much more. The fair runs Sept. 7-10 at the Show Place Arena.

You can also head further south to St. Mary’s County Sept. 9 for Indian Discovery Day (10 a.m. – 4 p. m.). Celebrate and explore the culture, life and ways of Maryland’s first people through hands-on activities and programming. Learn skills, try crafts, watch demonstrations, and gain an appreciation for our native people.

Celebrate the 203rd anniversary of the Battle of North Point in Baltimore County. Visit the North Point State Battlefield Sept. 9 (2 – 3 p.m.) to mark one of the most important days in Maryland and American history – Defenders Day. Meet living history interpreters portraying citizen soldiers of 1814 and enjoy a narrated tour of the battlefield.

On Sept. 10 go west to Hancock for the Woodmont Lodge Open House and Guided Hike (11 a.m. – 4 p.m.), where visitors can explore the early days of conservation history and hike throughout the Woodmont Natural Resources Management Area.

In Frederick, the Sky Pop! Artist Market & Showcase will take place Sept. 10 (11 a.m. – 3 p.m.). It is a free gathering and sharing opportunity for local talent (artists, bakers, students and the curious), where you can enjoy demonstrations, live performances and interactive art.

For more information or to see a full listing of Maryland Department of Natural Resources events, please check out our new interactive calendar. For more information on events around the state, please visit the Maryland Office of Tourism.

Why do leaves change color in the fall?

“We tend to think the colors are there for our enjoyment, and they certainly do serve that purpose. However, biologists, biochemists and ecologists ask why the colors are there. The colors are doing something for the plant, or they wouldn’t be there.” – Bryan A. Hanson

When tree leaves turn bright colors in the fall, it might seem like magic. But it turns out that the brilliant autumn display is more sleight of hand, or perhaps sleight of branch, than magic.

The vivid yellow and orange colors have actually been there throughout the spring and summer, but we haven’t been able to see them. The deep green color of chlorophyll, which helps plants absorb life-giving sunlight, hides the other colors. As leaves lose their chlorophyll in the fall, other pigments become visible to the human eye, according to Bryan A. Hanson, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at DePauw University who studies plant pigments. Some tree leaves turn mostly brown, indicating that all pigments are gone.

Burgundy and red colors are a different story. “The red color is actively made in leaves by bright light and cold,” says Dana A. Dudle, DePauw professor of biology who researches red pigment in plant flowers, stems and leaves. “The crisp, cold nights in the fall combine with bright, sunny days to spur production of red in leaves – especially in sugar maple and red maple trees. Burgundy leaves often result from a combination of red pigment and chlorophyll. Autumn seasons with a lot of sunny days and cold nights will have the brightest colors.”

In some cases, about half of a tree’s leaves are red/orange and the other half green. Dudle says that results from micro-environmental factors – such as only half the tree being exposed to sunlight or cold.

Hardwoods in the Midwest and on the East Coast are famous for good color selections. Some of the more reliably colorful trees, Hanson notes, are liquid amber trees (also called sweet gum) that turn a variety of colors on the same tree, and sometimes the same leaf. Ash tree leaves often turn a deep burgundy. Ginkgo trees, although not native to North America, will feature an intense yellow, almost golden, color.

“We tend to think the colors are there for our enjoyment, and they certainly do serve that purpose,” Hanson says. “However, biologists, biochemists and ecologists ask why the colors are there. The colors are doing something for the plant, or they wouldn’t be there.”

With some trees, pigments serve as a kind of sunscreen to filter out sunlight. “It’s an underappreciated fact that plants cannot take an infinite amount of sun. Some leaves, if they get too much sun, will get something equivalent of a sunburn. They get stressed out and die,” Hanson says.

Another theory is that the color of a plant’s leaves is often related to the ability to warn away pests or attract insect pollinators. “In some cases, a plant and insect might have co-evolved,” Hanson says. “One of the more intriguing scientific theories is that the beautiful leaf colors we see today are indicative of a relationship between a plant and insects that developed millions of years ago. However, as the Earth’s climate changed over the years, the insects might have gone extinct, but the plant was able to survive for whatever reason.

“Because plants evolve very slowly, we still see the colors. So leaf color is a fossil memory, something that existed for a reason millions of years ago but that serves no purpose now.” Except, perhaps, to delight human viewers.

This article is provided courtesy of DePauw University Communications