Fall color outlook disappointing, says Virginia Tech tree expert

BLACKSBURG, Va. – A staple of fall weather for many is the change in leaf color, but Virginia Tech tree physiologist John Seiler isn’t encouraged by the colors he sees so far.

Professor Seiler, who specializes in environmental stress effects on woody plant physiology, including water and pollutant stresses, thinks dryness is the major issue affecting this autumn spectacle.

“When it gets this dry, everything just shuts down. At this point right now, it could be one of the least colorful seasons we’ve seen in many years,” says Seiler.

Dry conditions in August and September have set what is potentially a disappointing season for fall foliage, and even with rain connected to Tropical Storm Nate in the forecast for the early part of next week, it is already too late for certain types of trees and leaves.

“Lack of rain speeds up the process of trees dropping their leaves, as they quickly change from green to yellow to brown.  It is especially true for some species such as hickories, maples, and poplars,” said Seiler.

The late summer, early fall dry conditions are not just particular to this part of Virginia. Seiler says colleagues as far north as New York state are writing about the lack of rain and its impact on autumn color.