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Top 10 Fall trees in Virginia

Published On: Dec 24 2013 07:30:27 AM EST   Updated On: Sep 17 2013 10:12:54 PM EDT
Sweetgum Tree

SWEET GUM: The star-shape leaves turn a kaleidoscope of colors -- including red, orange, and burgundy.

The leaves aren't expected to peak until mid October, but the changes are already underway.  

What Influences Color?

While the changes begin as a result of the length of day, the brilliance of fall colors depends on the weather. Watch the temperature before and during the time leaf chlorophyll is dwindling.

Warm and sunny days along with cool nights, with no frost create the most spectacular color displays. During warm days the leaf produces lots of sugars. During cool nights the leaf veins gradually close, keeping the sugars from moving out. Lots of sugar and lots of sunlight spur production of anthocyanins -- brilliant reds and purples. Because carotenoids are always in leaves, yellows and golds remain fairly constant from year to year.

The amount of moisture in the soil also influences color. Cool, wet summers can cause early displays of color. This is especially true for maples. A mild drought can brighten the display, but severe drought may make colors duller. Sometimes, the leaves die early from a lack of water.

In falls with lots of warm, cloudy, rainy weather, the leaves may have less red. The leaves make smaller amounts of sugar in the reduced sunlight.

Trees with lots of leaves naturally make a bigger show of color. Leaves won't show much color if pests, disease, or other environmental problems have damaged them. You can see great color in your own neighborhood. Or, look for forests with a mix of tree species, including maple. Bluffs and hills give you good vistas of the forest.