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Here comes fall senescence: Colors already starting with black ash, some maples, ferns and flowers

Sep 08, 2017 10:15AM ● Published by Editor

A forest in transition from summer to fall greets motorists driving along County Highway 4 north of Island Lake Wednesday afternoon. A red maple stands out among the yellow leaves of black ash and dark green of spruce. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com

By John Myers of The Duluth News Tribune on Sep 7, 2017 

The yellows in the black-ash swamps up north, in Koochiching, Itasca and northern St. Louis counties, were already showing over Labor Day weekend, the first signs of the color bounty to follow.

The leaves of a few red maples along County Highway 4 north of Duluth were already bright crimson on Wednesday.

Now the show will build gradually over the next two weeks and then explode across the Northland.

It's called senescence, as the leaf cells break down, and it happens every year at nearly the same time, mid-September to mid-October across the Northland, depending on where you live.

But climatic events like droughts have a big impact. And even subtle changes in weather, unusually warm September nights or an unusually early frost, can change exactly when fall color hits.

Which leads to the inevitable questions for botanists, naturalists and foresters: How will the fall colors be this autumn and when will they peak?

Val Cervenka, forest health program coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in St. Paul, gets the same questions every year. They often start right after the State Fair ends as the first sweater-worthy mornings arrive. So her phone started ringing earlier this week.

"For most of the state what I'm seeing is pretty close to normal timing for pretty close to normal color, with our normal being spectacular," Cervenka said. "It's just starting now."

The exception to that may be northwestern Minnesota which is locked in a summerlong drought.

"I'm thinking up there you'll see, or maybe already are seeing, a lot of the leaves going dormant early, turning brown and falling off without much color," she told the News Tribune. When it's dry during summer, trees produce fewer sugars that spur the fall colors.

In Northeastern and north central Minnesota it's been a good summer for trees, with ample rain. That should mean vibrant colors when they do come.

The Arrowhead region "and along the north shore should be nice this year — there's been plenty of moisture. We're just barely behind last year in terms of current color change, '' said Jessica Hartshorn, DNR forest health specialist in Grand Rapids.

Cervenka reminded folks to look down, not just up, to see bountiful fall color among grasses, wildflowers and ferns. And she added a new tip this year: If you want to see more color, look for hilly areas, and not just because you get longer vistas.

"In general there's more variety, more tree species, in hilly areas. Flat areas generally tend to have fewer or even single species," she said. The more species, she added, the better the chance you'll see one or more at its peak color at any one time.

As occurs each year, some individual turn started turning color in August. But (sorry to disappoint some armchair phenologists) very early coloring is a sign of unhealthy trees, not an early autumn or winter. Trees can't predict what weather is to come. That early color was likely caused by drought, stress, insects, disease or disturbances like nearby construction or traffic.

Experts say the true onset of fall color is triggered by shortening daylight hours and the impact that declining light has on the chemistry of leaves. But temperature and sunshine also play key roles: Cooler nights help bring out more color, as do sunny days.

It's that combination of shorter days, but especially the colder temperatures, that cause the change in hormones in the leaf that trigger senescence. Warm weather, especially at night, can slow that process down even as days get shorter.

"A light frost at the start of the color season actually helps produce vivid color," said Kao Thao, a DNR naturalist at Ft. Snelling State park.

That's exactly what was forecast for parts of Minnesota's Arrowhead this morning.

"What we want are nice days with cool nights to get it going. But not a major frost. A hard frost can kill the color fast," Cervenka added.

Chlorophyll gives leaves their green color, while anthocyanins, carotenoids and tannins produce the reds, golds and browns that come to the forefront in the fall, the DNR notes. Those shorter periods of daylight mean a closing off of the leaf veins that carry liquid sugar in and out of leaves. Sugars in the leaf permit the red and purple colors to develop.

Purple-like and red pigments are found in the leaves of maple and oak, some varieties of ash, and tall shrubs like cherry, sumac and viburnum. Yellow is always present in leaves all summer long, but the color is revealed when the green pigment in chlorophyll breaks down.

More recent research also shows that leaves have evolved to develop those bright colors as a sort of sunscreen against damage as the tree goes dormant, protecting the leaf as long as possible so the tree can keep drawing nutrients until the leaves fall.

Of course, heavy rain or strong winds that come during peak color can quickly strip trees of their leaves, cutting the color show short.

As black ash begin to turn yellow, sumac are turning red. Next up will be maples on the back side of Lake Superior's North Shore hills — from Duluth to Grand Portage — with birch, aspen and tamarack to follow, generally, but not always, peaking from north to south.

Maples away from Lake Superior north of Lutsen, for example, generally reach peak color between Sept. 23-26, local residents say. In Duluth, maples generally peak about a week later, during the first days of October. Trees right along Lake Superior can peak even later thanks to the lake's temperature-buffering effects.


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    11/30/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Annual 20% off Customer Appreciation Sale

    11/30/2017
    09:00AM — 05:00PM

    Come in to Lake Superior Trading Post and save 20% off on all merchandise in stock, this includes...


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    11/30/2017
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    BBQ Chicken/Baled Potato/Coleslaw/Jello/Milk


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    11/30/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Alcoholics Anonymous

    11/30/2017
    06:30PM

    Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and ho...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    11/30/2017
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for November 30 through January 25. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/01/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/01/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Annual 20% off Customer Appreciation Sale

    12/01/2017
    09:00AM — 05:00PM

    Come in to Lake Superior Trading Post and save 20% off on all merchandise in stock, this includes...


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    12/01/2017
    12:00PM — 12:55PM

    Polish Sausage/ Sauerkraut/ Potato/Dessert/Milk


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/01/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/02/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/02/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Trails Final Check

    12/02/2017
    09:00AM — 02:00PM

    We welcome you to join us at 9 a.m. at the Groomer building on Caribou Trail to do the final trai...


  • Annual 20% off Customer Appreciation Sale

    12/02/2017
    09:00AM — 05:00PM

    Come in to Lake Superior Trading Post and save 20% off on all merchandise in stock, this includes...


  • Northwoods Fiber Guild Annual Holiday Sale will be on Saturday, December 2nd from 9:00am-2:00pm. ...


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/02/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    12/02/2017
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for November 30 through January 25. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/03/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/03/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Holiday Movies in the Brewery

    12/03/2017
    12:30PM — 02:00PM

    Are you craving some beer with your holiday cheer? We will see you at Voyageur Brewing Company on...


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/03/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Alcoholics Anonymous

    12/03/2017
    06:30PM — 07:30PM

    Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and ho...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/04/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/04/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    12/04/2017
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Chicken Stew with Dumplings/Brussels Sprouts/Fruit/Milk


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/04/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • 1/2 Price Burger Night

    12/04/2017
    04:00PM — 08:00AM

    1/2 Price Burgers at Moguls Grille and Tap Room


  • Co-Dependents Anonymous

    12/04/2017
    05:30PM

    Co-Dependents Anonymous is a Fellowship of men and women whose common purpose is to develop healt...


  • Open Mic Every Monday at 6PM!

    12/04/2017
    06:00PM — 11:55PM

    Grand Marais Music Collaborative presents "Open Mic Night", every Monday at Grandma Ray's! The s...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    12/04/2017
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for November 30 through January 25. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/05/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/05/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Overeaters Anonymous

    12/05/2017
    11:00AM

    Overeaters Anonymous is a fellowship of individuals who, through shared experience, strength and...


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    12/05/2017
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Tuna Hotdish/Salad/Fruit/Milk


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/05/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Kids Eat Free

    12/05/2017
    04:00PM — 09:00PM

    1 free kids meal with any paid adult meal Available after 4pm


  • Trivia Night at Grandma Ray's

    12/05/2017
    07:00PM — 09:00PM

    Trivia Night from 7:00-9:00pm every Tuesday down at Grandma Ray's.


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/06/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/06/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Anxiety/Depression Support Group for Women

    12/06/2017
    10:00AM — 11:00AM

    Weekly support group for women. $2.00 suggested donation. No registration required. Please joi...


  • 1/2 Price Bottles of Wine

    12/06/2017
    11:00AM

    1/2 Price Bottles of Wine


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    12/06/2017
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Meatloaf/Baked Potato/Beets/Dessert/Milk


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/06/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Craft and a Craft Market

    12/06/2017
    04:30PM — 06:30PM

    Voyageur Brewing is proud to host weekly craft markets until Christmas with local Cook County art...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    12/06/2017
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for November 30 through January 25. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/07/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/07/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    12/07/2017
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Linda Johnson's Treat!!!


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/07/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Light Up a Life

    12/07/2017
    05:30PM — 06:30PM

    The 9th Annual “Light up a Life” offers community members the opportunity to celebrate the life o...


  • Alcoholics Anonymous

    12/07/2017
    06:30PM

    Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and ho...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    12/07/2017
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for November 30 through January 25. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/08/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/08/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Caregiver Coffee - Tofte

    12/08/2017
    10:00AM — 11:30AM

    Caregiver Coffee Join us to get to know other caregivers in a casual setting. Take part in a d...


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    12/08/2017
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Beef Stew/Salad/Biscuit/Dessert/Milk


  • Legends of the Wilderness

    12/08/2017
    01:30PM — 02:30PM

    Experience the wilderness through reenactment of the 1800s with French Canadian Voyageur Jacques ...


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/08/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/09/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/09/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/09/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • In the spirit of gratitude, pride, and recognition of the community that has valued and fostered ...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    12/09/2017
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for November 30 through January 25. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/10/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/10/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Holiday Movies in the Brewery

    12/10/2017
    12:30PM — 02:00PM

    Are you craving some beer with your holiday cheer? We will see you at Voyageur Brewing Company on...


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/10/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Alcoholics Anonymous

    12/10/2017
    06:30PM — 07:30PM

    Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and ho...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/11/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/11/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    12/11/2017
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Boiled Dinner/Biscuit/Fruit/Milk


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/11/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • 1/2 Price Burger Night

    12/11/2017
    04:00PM — 08:00AM

    1/2 Price Burgers at Moguls Grille and Tap Room


  • Co-Dependents Anonymous

    12/11/2017
    05:30PM

    Co-Dependents Anonymous is a Fellowship of men and women whose common purpose is to develop healt...


  • Open Mic Every Monday at 6PM!

    12/11/2017
    06:00PM — 11:55PM

    Grand Marais Music Collaborative presents "Open Mic Night", every Monday at Grandma Ray's! The s...


  • Over 75 talented Cook County singers and musicians in the Borealis Chorale & Orchestra continue t...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    12/11/2017
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for November 30 through January 25. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/12/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/12/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Overeaters Anonymous

    12/12/2017
    11:00AM

    Overeaters Anonymous is a fellowship of individuals who, through shared experience, strength and...


  • Taco Tuesday Fundraiser Luncheon

    12/12/2017
    11:30AM — 01:30PM

    We are raising money for our dear friend & co-worker, Jennifer Rue, who is dealing with long term...


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    12/12/2017
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Sweet & Sour Pork/Broccoli/Rice/Dessert/Milk


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/12/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Kids Eat Free

    12/12/2017
    04:00PM — 09:00PM

    1 free kids meal with any paid adult meal Available after 4pm


  • Trivia Night at Grandma Ray's

    12/12/2017
    07:00PM — 09:00PM

    Trivia Night from 7:00-9:00pm every Tuesday down at Grandma Ray's.


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/13/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/13/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Anxiety/Depression Support Group for Women

    12/13/2017
    10:00AM — 11:00AM

    Weekly support group for women. $2.00 suggested donation. No registration required. Please joi...


  • 1/2 Price Bottles of Wine

    12/13/2017
    11:00AM

    1/2 Price Bottles of Wine


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    12/13/2017
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Fish/Baked Potato/Corn Pudding/Cake/Milk


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/13/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Craft and a Craft Market

    12/13/2017
    04:30PM — 06:30PM

    Voyageur Brewing is proud to host weekly craft markets until Christmas with local Cook County art...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    12/13/2017
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for November 30 through January 25. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/14/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/14/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    12/14/2017
    12:00PM — 12:40PM

    Swedish Meatballs/Potato/Green Bean/Dessert/Milk


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/14/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Alcoholics Anonymous

    12/14/2017
    06:30PM

    Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and ho...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    12/14/2017
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for November 30 through January 25. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/15/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/15/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Caregiver Coffee - Grand Marais

    12/15/2017
    10:00AM — 11:30AM

    Caregiver Coffee Join us to get to know other caregivers in a casual setting. Take part in a d...


  • Caregiver Coffee

    12/15/2017
    10:00AM — 11:30AM

    Caregiver Coffee Join us to get to know other caregivers in a casual setting. Take part in a d...


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    12/15/2017
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Beef, Rice, Cabbage Hotdish/Bread Pudding/Milk


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/15/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here