In the Devils Lake area leaves on trees and bushes are beginning to change colors. One of the best places to view these changes is Sullys Hill National Game Preserve.

In the Devils Lake area  leaves on trees and bushes are beginning to change colors. One of the best places to view these changes is Sullys Hill National Game Preserve.

Colleen Graue, director of visitor services for Sullys Hill, recommends you climb to the top of the highest point of Sullys Hill from that vantage point you can see the hills surrounding the preserve in all their early fall glory.

Graue says last year the peak fall folage viewing at Sullys Hill was on Sept. 27, so she figures anytime around Sept. 25 or thereabout should be peak for this year.

NDSD campus
Another area where fall’s colors will be seen easily will be the campus of the North Dakota State School for the Deaf. Some of the trees along the north side of the campus are sugar maples, according to Andy Lankowicz, who is the market president of CHI St. Alexius Devils Lake Hospital, and is also a maple syrup maker. This past spring he tapped a number of the sugar maple trees lining the north side of the NDSD campus and made maple syrup from the collected sap the trees provided.

He did a presentation in April for students from NDSD on the process that has to be done at a specific time of year - when the sap is flowing. He even gave the students a taste of the finished product - real maple syrup.
According to the USDA mixed forests, like we have here in this part of North Dakota, that have both evergreen conifers such as spruce and deciduous trees such as aspen or larch are found in the far north or at high elevations. Here, the dominant color is yellow and the change is rapid, with trees often going from green through brilliant yellow to bare over a period of two weeks.

Fall viewing elsewhere in the country
Other areas famous for fall coloration because of deciduous trees are well-known. New England, the mountains of New York, Pennsylvania and the Rockies all have their claim to fame for sometimes breathtaking colors. As overwhelming as they may appear when one is taking in these majestic colors, only 14 percent of the world’s forests are temperate deciduous forests with a habit of giving viewers the brilliant fall coloration.

In regions where sugar maples abound, such as New England, the red leaf displays dominate, but are intermingled with the bright yellows of aspen, beech and birch trees. In spite of the striking beauty that we enjoy, Mother Nature doesn’t do it for our benefit because these hues of red, yellow, gold and brown represent more than just a pleasing experience for humans.

“Shortly after peaking in color intensity, the leaves abscise, or fall, to the earth,” says Ron Smith, North Dakota State University Extension Service horticulturist. “This move is designed to help conserve the energy balance in the trees. This reduces and balances the respiration rate of the tree to approximate the lowered rate of photosynthesis that takes place during our winter months.”
What is it that triggers this coloring to take place in certain tree species? Many think it may be initiated by a touch from Jack Frost, but in reality, the colors we enjoy only can be witnessed only on living, senescing trees. If Jack Frost arrives too early in the fall, there will be no fall colors, just dull browns because of the “killing frost.”

“What triggers these events is a specific combination of shorter days and cooler temperatures in autumn in a specific locale that is sensed by plant receptors, which results in hormone production,” Smith says. “This, in turn, initiates leaf senescence. This specificity to a narrow climatic zone is important for us to understand because it is generally effective within 130 miles north or south of the origin. For example, this is why a red maple that looks great in Ames, Iowa, is mediocre in Fargo. Or, at worst, has the leaves nipped by a hard frost before it has a chance to senesce sufficiently.”

Typically we see reds, yellows and oranges in our region of the country. Carotenoid pigments are unmasked during leaf senescence. This gives the viewer the yellow colors we see in the common Ohio buckeye, birch and ash trees.

“The most favorite color for most observers is the red that comes from anthocyanin pigments,” Smith says. “Red and sugar maples, along with sumac shrubs, are the sources in our region for this color. Unlike other pigments, anthocyanins are not commonly present in leaves until autumn coloration begins. There are exceptions we all know about, such as the red leafed chokecherry and the crimson king Norway maple. Trees lacking the genes for red color from anthocyanins instead will develop yellow and brown shades in autumn.”

Fall weather favoring bright red autumn leaf colors are warm, sunny days followed by cool, but not freezing, nights. Rainy or cloudy days, with reduced sunlight near the time of peak coloration, decrease the intensity of the reddish autumn colors by limiting photosynthesis and the sugars available for anthocyanin production.

A large portion of this story came from two sources; NDSU Extension and the USDA.