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Why did the leaf color & trees holding leaves last so long this year?

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Last Updated on November 12, 2021 7:27 pm

It was hard not to notice the fall leaves this year. But to be more specific the leaves, both in the unusual vibrant colors for some trees and how long many trees held their leaves.

There's been a lot of photos shared, especially within the WataugaOnline social media outlets and website, over the last 3 weeks at least documenting the rarity of this fall longer-lasting event.

Official records and data have not been kept regarding how long leaves historically stayed on trees each year, unlike other weather events. So it's hard to say if this year set a record but many people believe it to be the case and there's good reasoning that it may very well be.

So what caused both the unusual vibrant colors for some trees and how long many trees held their leaves?

WataugaOnline.com turned to “The Fall Color Guy” to help answer that question. For the 10th year in a row WataugaOnline.com teamed up with Dr. Howard Neufeld, Professor of Plant Eco-physiology at Appalachian State University, better known as “The Fall Color Guy” to provide information as the colors started changing and progressed.

Dr. Neufeld started off by saying, “I agree that the colors have lasted longer than usual. Weather is the reason – it was cool in September, then in October it warmed considerably, making it one of the warmest Octobers in history.”

It was the 3rd warmest October in Boone since 1980, as you can see in the information below provided by the Southeast Regional Climate Center.

The local area did not have a freezing evening until late October. The North Carolina Climate Office blog recapping October 2021 noted, “Even Boone, which has an average first freeze date of October 14, never got any colder than 34°F last month.” 

Dr. Neufeld also noted, “The combination of warmth and lack of freezing allowed the trees to hold on to their leaves for longer. And once the cold did come, many of the trees that were slow to turn suddenly started doing so. That's why we had a late season flush of color.”

“The surprise to me was how vibrant the colors were, despite the warmth. I had thought the warm temperatures would dull the red colors, but in fact, they were very bright this year, especially in the town of Boone with all those ornamental red maples, plus sugar maples. Now beech, oaks, and hickories are coloring up nicely. Oaks tend to color up last. The dark, rust reds that highlight the forests along the roadways are most likely oaks.” Dr. Neufeld added.

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