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  • Fall Color Report

    2014 UPDATES

    Dr. Howard Neufeld is not only Professor of Plant Eco-physiology at Appalachian State University, but he is also known as The Fall Color Guy. For the third year in a row WataugaRoads.com is teaming up with Dr. Neufeld to provide information as the colors start changing.

    Fall Color Report for Week of August 17, 2014 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors.

    “I’m sorry I didn’t have any tree photos last week. Your intrepid reporter was laid low by a recalcitrant kidney stone, which was surgically removed this past Tuesday. He’s feeling much better now and today when out and about looking for iconic photos of trees. See the photo album that I will upload after this post.

    It is an understatement to say that this has been a relatively cool summer. Using the metric of daily mean temperature, this July was the coldest since the Boone station began keeping records 34 years ago, and in Jefferson, which has 82 years of records, it was the 3rd coolest July. For the state as a whole, it was the 11th coolest in the last 120 years! The NC State Climate Office reports that this is due primarily to lower maximum temperatures and not unusually low minimum temperatures at night. However, here in the mountains, we did get into the high 40s for a few days in July.

    The cool temperatures may have resulted from a polar vortex phenomenon that causes the jet stream, which tends to separate warm from cool air, to dip lower into the United States. Some feel that as the Polar Regions continue to warm rapidly (more so than in the tropics), that this will cause greater instability in the path of the jet stream, and could, paradoxically, lead to more instances of cooling in this region. I know this may give climate change deniers ammunition to continue their campaign to discredit those who have documented significant human-induced climate change, but in reality, it simply shows off their ignorance of weather and climate science. Just remember, even though locally we’re having a cool summer, globally, temperatures worldwide continue to rise. Last year tied with 2003 as the fourth warmest on record, and 13 of the last 14 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2000!

    Will the cool July affect the timing of autumnal leaf colors, or the quality? No one knows for sure. August is continuing on a mild streak right now, and it’s an important month for prepping the trees for fall color. When August and September are cool and sunny, we get our best leaf colors.

    This week I am seeing some prominent coloring on dogwoods, red and sugar maples and on burning bushes; the dogwood in my yard is starting to show some red color, as are the ones across the street from me in the cow pasture. The maples I mentioned last week continue to turn as do isolated ones in the woods. But the majority of trees are still quite green now, as they should be. I have uploaded an album of some pictures I took this Sunday of trees turning color in the Boone area. This phenomenon has been noticed by others as far north as Pittsburgh, NY and Canada. They too had very cool July’s and people are reporting trees turning color several weeks earlier than usual. Others are documenting a failure of tomatoes to ripen on time. This may turn out to be one of our more unusual and interesting autumns.

    Last week I said I would tell you why some black locust trees are turning brown. There is a native insect, called the locust leaf miner (Odontota dorsalis), which is a type of beetle, and whose larvae attack the leaves and eat them from the inside out, causing them to turn brown and then drop off prematurely. They usually peak in activity in late July and August which is why there are so many brown locust trees right now. However, it’s my opinion that the incidence is much less this year; perhaps the frost in late April that we had here killed some of the insects, or the cold is reducing their impact. I took some pictures of damaged locust leaves, and also of the mature insects sitting on them and they are in the album of tree pictures mentioned above.

    Black locust is an interesting tree species because it can fix nitrogen out of the air through nodules on their roots that contain Rhizobia, a bacterial genus that does the actual fixing. This mutualistic relationship is based on the fact that the bacteria get carbohydrates from the plant while the plant gets nitrogen from the bacteria. This process can enrich the soil in nitrogen, because when the roots die and decay, or when leaves fall to the ground, they are enriched in nitrogen and make it more fertile.

    Black locust trees are indigenous to the southern Appalachians, but have been planted outside their native range in both North America and Europe, where they are now one of the most invasive trees species known. Cameron Houser, an Appalachian State University Biology graduate student, just completed her Master’s thesis on this species. She showed that when it invades areas outside its native range, it substantially increases the nitrogen content of forest soils compared to adjacent forests where locust trees are absent. Such enrichment may greatly alter ecosystem nutrient cycling processes, as well as have consequences for the species composition of these invaded forests. That a native tree species can be invasive in its own continent is unusual, since we usually think of most invasives as alien species that are come over from either Asia or Europe.

    Next week: further reports on leaf color and some thoughts on tree water relations.”

    Photos: Dr. Howard Neufeld

    Red Maple at intersection of King and Poplar Grove Road showing reddening of upper and outer leaves.

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    Closeup of leaves turning red.

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    Tree adjacent to Galileo Bar and Grill parking lot that has completely turned red in the upper portion of the crown by August 17, 2014. See how the lower leaves are still totally green while the upper crown is totally red.

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    Sugar maple leaves turning yellow-orange on King Street across from Galileo’s Bar and Grill, Aug 17, 2014.

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    Here is that red tree at Galileo’s again, with a neighboring tree that is still mostly green. Strange!

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    Black locust leaves behind Broyhill Center on campus of Appalachian State University showing leaf miner damage, Aug 17, 2014.

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    These are the locust leaf miner adult beetles. Notice how they have damaged the leaves.

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    Sugar maple turning early on Bodenheimer Drive right next to entrance to parking lot by Chancellor’s home on the campus of Appalachian State University, Aug 17, 2014.

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    Report for Week of August 10, 2014 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors.

    “Well, after a restful winter/spring, and with summer starting to fade, it’s time to renew our weekly fall leaf color reports. I hope everyone had a good off-season and that you’re ready for our autumnal displays this year. So, what’s the situation this week, and what does that portend for the fall?

    This summer started off fairly dry and we were actually in a low level drought until some rains came later in July. You may also remember just how cool July was (I’m checking to see if it was a record cool) and some people wrote me asking what that meant for fall colors (I don’t think too much). Already, you can see scattered color developing, particularly on red and sugar maples. There’s even one red maple on the east side of US 321 between Patterson and Blowing Rock that is at peak (I repeat, peak!) color for reasons not are not clear to me. Other maples are showing significant coloring, especially along Rivers Street in Boone, but also at other locations in Watauga County. Some of the horticultural red maple varieties are starting to turn red on the outer portions of their crowns, and these usually turn much later in the year.

    It’s not clear why these trees turn so early. The trees along Rivers Street color up every year around this time, yet the majority of the trees in the forest still peak at our usual time, which for Boone is mid-October. It is possible that when trees are stressed, such as by salt from the DOT during the winter, or by being planted in compacted soils, that they turn early. I don’t think the fact that these trees are turning early suggests that fall colors will come early this year. That depends more on what the weather conditions will be like for the rest of August and through September.

    If the weather turns sunny and cool in August and September, colors should arrive on time and be vibrant, with bright reds contrasted against oranges and yellows. If it is rainy and warm, peak colors may be delayed and subdued.

    Final thoughts: some recent scientific papers studying the timing of autumnal colors suggest that temperatures, especially in the fall, are the most correlated with the timing of colors. Warm falls delay the colors, cool ones accelerate them. Rainfall has much less of an effect on timing. Since we aren’t in a major drought, which can cause the leaves to fall prematurely, we still have the potential for an excellent fall leaf color season here in the southern Appalachians.

    Next week: why the black locust trees are turning brown.”

     

    August 6, 2014 – The summer of 2014 will be remembered more for cooler temperatures that the record setting rains in 2013. Attention is turning quickly toward fall and what might it bring.

    Dr. Howard Neufeld is not only Professor of Plant Eco-physiology at Appalachian State University, but he is also known as The Fall Color Guy. For the third year in a row WataugaRoads.com is teaming up with “The Fall Color Guy” to provide information as the colors start changing.

    WataugaRoads.com ask Dr. Neufeld what we might see with fall colors this year due to the more cooler temperatures instead of all the rain received last summer.

    Dr.Neufeld replied:

    “As for the wet weather, there have been some publications since last year on the impacts of weather on fall color (especially timing, not so much quality). Precipitation has only minor effects on timing in the fall. Temperature is more important. So, at this point, I don’t see anything to make me think that fall colors will be adversely affected, either in timing or quality.

    What happens in mid- to late August and in September, temperature-wise, will be more important, especially for quality (notably the intensity of the red colors)”.

    Dr.Neufeld shared some thoughts just before fall season of 2013 that are still relevant this upcoming season:

    “1. People think fall colors are good when they last a long time, and have plenty of brilliant reds interspersed with the oranges and yellows. So, the quality will depend on how much “redness” we have this fall.

    2. Trees tend to make more red colors (anthocyanins) in the fall when it’s cool and sunny, and if we have a slight but not severe drought.

    3. Sunny days means more photosynthesis, and more sugars produced in the leaves, and sugars induce anthocyanin production.

    4. A slight drought impairs uptake of nitrogen (we think) and some experiments suggest that plants low on N make more anthocyanins.

    5. Usually, fall colors peak around Oct 11-14 in the Boone area; sooner by a few days up to a week at higher elevations, later at lower ones. Nice colors can stick around for a week or more, although the peak usually comes and goes in just a few days, weather permitting (no high winds for example)”.

    Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors

     

    An early look at some trees starting to change on the ASU campus on August 6, 2014. Photos: Kara Harmon

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    *article from NOAA*
    Cool Autumn Weather Reveals Nature’s True Hues

    A favorite American pastime in fall is to pack a picnic basket and set off with loved ones on a Sunday drive along one of the nation’s many scenic byways. It’s a time of year when people enjoy crisp cool weather and marvel at the transforming landscape as tree leaves turn from lush green to gorgeous shades of yellow, orange, red, purple and brown.

    While we relish the opportunity to frolic in a big pile of freshly raked leaves, we don’t often think about the science behind why leaves change color and eventually fall from their branches. The answer may surprise you!

    Recipe for Fabulous Foliage: Cool Nights and Sunny Days

    Weather factors such as temperature, sunlight, precipitation and soil moisture influence fall color arrival, duration and vibrancy. According to United States National Arboretum, a wet growing season followed by a dry autumn filled with sunny days and cool, frostless nights results in the brightest palette of fall colors. Changes in weather can speed up, slow down or change the arrival time of fall’s colorful foliage. For example:

    Drought conditions during late summer and early fall can trigger an early “shutdown” of trees as they prepare for winter. This causes leaves to fall early from trees without reaching their full color potential.
    Freezing temperatures and hard frosts can kill the processes within a leaf and lead to poor fall color and an early separation from a tree.

    True Colors Come From Inside
    Trees actually begin to show their true colors in autumn, and here’s why.

    The four primary pigments that produce color within a leaf are: chlorophyll (green); xanthophylls (yellow); carotenoids (orange); and anthocyanins (reds and purples). During the warmer growing seasons, leaves produce chlorophyll to help plants create energy from light. The green pigment becomes dominant and masks the other pigments.

    Trees must replenish the chlorophyll because sunlight causes it to fade over time. As days get shorter and nights become longer, trees prepare for winter and the next growing season by blocking off flow to and from a leaf’s stem. This process stops green chlorophyll from being replenished and causes the leaf’s green color to fade.

    The fading green allows a leaf’s true colors to emerge, producing the dazzling array of orange, yellow, red and purple pigments we refer to as fall foliage.

    Following the Feast of Fall Colors

    Fall’s color “parade” varies from region to region and year to year, depending on weather conditions. For areas under calm and dry high pressure, cool nights and sunny days can lengthen fall color displays. Cold or warm fronts can produce strong winds and heavy rain that cause leaves to fall off trees more rapidly.

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    2013 UPDATES

     

    November 13, 2013 – Since the leaf peak season has passed this is the final report on conditions for the High Country on this page.

    November 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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    October 26, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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    October 23, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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    Autumn Color viewed from space Sunday October 20 in Western NC via the Modis Visible Satellite image. Image courtesy of Brad Panovich

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    October 19, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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    October 16, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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    Fall Leaf Color Report for Week of October 13, 2013 from The Fall Color Guy (Dr. Howie Neufeld). Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors

    “This week, plus the coming weekend, should be our peak fall leaf color times here in the Boone/Blowing Rock and Grandfather Mountain areas. A drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway will present excellent viewing, especially at 3,000’ and up. Colors are still developing at lower elevations, and won’t peak for another week or so, but the views should be great nonetheless. Sugar maples are really gearing up now. In Boone, along King Street, and also on the Blowing Rock Highway, there are several large sugar maples that just explode in yellow-orange brilliance at this time, and you can see them this week if you come up. Red maples are having a great year, and many are now peaking in the Boone area. A lot of yellow color is coming through now as the birches, beeches, tulip poplars, hickories and magnolias begin to show. Some of the oaks are also starting to color up, and the red, scarlet and black oaks will be the last major bursts of color on the landscape.

    Kathy Mathews says that “we will reach “peak” by next weekend [in the Cullowhee/Sylva area]. A lot of trees are dropping their leaves,” and she says “it would be best to advise tourists to come up next weekend, I think. She says she’s “astonished we haven’t had a frost yet to bring on a real peak of simultaneous color! A frost may not happen until the end of the month, but many trees will be finished by then.” Kathy then drove “over the mountains on Hwy 64 south to Clay County this weekend, between Franklin and Hayesville, and the pass where the AT crosses highway 64 near the Standing Indian Recreation Area is just gorgeous now. That area is in true peak, with lots of bright colors.”

    Jonathan Horton reports that Asheville is still predominantly green, but there is color on the surrounding hills. Oaks and hickories are coloring up and adding to the other trees that already show color (maples, sourwoods, dogwoods). Later today I’ll have a report from the Cashiers/Highlands area. The government shutdown is preventing me from reporting about Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but my intuition says the high elevations are peaking now, so this weekend should also be good for a drive up to Newfound Gap. Cades Cove will most likely peak later as it’s at low elevation in the Park.

    We’ve had very moderate temperatures these last few weeks, even excessively warm the prior week. I think that delayed the progression of color development by several days as the peak is yet to appear here in the Boone area, and the average date of appearance is between the 10th and 14th of October. Also, as Kathy Mathews from WCU points out, we have not had a hard frost yet, which can synchronize leaf colors somewhat (it can also speed up leaf loss too). We did get down to 34oF a few mornings ago, and I’m sure it went below freezing at the higher elevations like Banner Elk. But the long-range forecast shows temperatures above 40oF for the next week or so. There is a front moving in, and there could be rain late Wednesday and some of Thursday, and even a chance this coming weekend (sorry, I can’t do anything about Mother Nature!). But nothing too major (and no severe winds) so come on up and enjoy the best show nature ever devised!”

    October 12, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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    October 10 from Brad Panovich WCNC TV Charlotte

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    October 9, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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    October 5, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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    October 2, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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    Fall Leaf Color Report for Week of September 29, 2013 from The Fall Color Guy (Dr. Howie Neufeld). Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors

    “This is the first weekend of autumn and also the first time I can report that fall leaf color in the mountains is beginning to show in earnest, especially above 4,000’ elevation. Check out the photo attached which I took at Tynecastle, at the intersection of Rts. 105 and 184, near Banner Elk, and just west of Grandfather Mountain State Park. The sugar and red maples are coming out and should peak at the higher elevations by next weekend. American ash is turning also (a dull purplish color), and the mountain ash fruits are like red beacons against the background of spruce and still green oaks. They are quite spectacular this year, perhaps a result of all that rain earlier in the summer (Grandfather Mountain, for example, received 29” of rain in July alone!). There are four species of maples on Grandfather Mountain (red, sugar, striped, and mountain) which turn varying shades of orange and red (often both), although striped maple is unique in that its large leaves only turn a brilliant yellow only.

    You may also see the evergreen rhododendrons (R. maximum and R. catawbiense) dropping their older leaves now. That is normal at this time of year, and you can tell which is which by the color: the senescent leaves of R. maximum are yellow while those of R. catawbiense have a reddish hue to them. Also, the leaves of R. maximum are longer while the other species has shorter, more oval leaves. Sassafras is also turning, and you can find leaves ranging from dark green, to yellow, to orange to red, all on the same tree! Huckleberry bushes are now peaking and have a deep burgundy color. There is a good display of these shrubs on the rock outcrops on Beacon Hill, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway east of Grandfather Mountain. Finally, you may have seen tree trunks covered in a deep red vine (note the picture at the top of my academic fall color page (http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors). This is Virginia creeper, and it’s peaking now throughout the High Country.

    Down by Cullowhee and Sylva, Kathy Mathews reports that she is seeing “many trees and shrubs turning yellow (tulip poplar, cherry, birch, walnut) and red (dogwoods, sourwoods, red maple, burning bush, etc.), but the chlorophyll is still present as well, so the red colors are looking somewhat dull.” She feels that their peak is still several weeks away.

    Based on the rate of development of leaf color, I think visitors will enjoy peak colors by next weekend at the higher elevations, especially on the slopes of Grandfather (and particularly on the east-facing slopes), at the higher elevations in Elk Knob State Park just north of Boone and on Roan Mountain on the border of NC and TN and finally, in the Smokies, also at the higher elevations. Colors won’t be at their peak in Boone and Highlands until the weekend after next. One positive thing going for us is that the weather for this coming week is forecast to be sunny and cool, which is perfect for color development.”

    September 28, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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    September 26, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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    September 21, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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    Fall Leaf Color Report for Week of September 16, 2013 from The Fall Color Guy (Dr. Howie Neufeld). Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors

    “The forecast for this week is, in a nutshell, the same as last week: Green! Trees in the High Country still have most of their leaves, and there is isn’t much to report right now. Yellow buckeyes are about the only tree species to show a significant change: most have started losing their leaves (remember, these trees are early to leaf out, and early to lose them in the fall – the botanical equivalent of early to bed, early to rise!). However, they also get a leaf fungal disease, so their leaves do not provide much color. Dogwoods and burning bushes are coming along and increasing in color each week, and the occasional sugar or red maple have some orange/red leaves. Otherwise, as I stated above, the word is still GREEN.

    The long-range forecast for the southeastern portion of the country, including the southern Appalachians, is for above-normal amounts of precipitation. That doesn’t bode well for great fall leaf color, because sunny and cool conditions are what lead to good fall leaf color. But so far the weather has been near perfect for good fall color, so let’s hope that we don’t get too much rain in the next few weeks. If not, we should have a great fall color season this year!

    As I was driving back from a short visit to the coast on Sunday, I was thinking of how green the mountains looked as I headed up US 421 into Watauga County. That started me thinking of all things green: How Green Was My Valley, the Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Fence, and It Isn’t Easy Being Green (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51BQfPeSK8k, with Kermit the Frog). What phrases can you think of that relate to “green”?

    Have a great week! Don’t forget, you can check out essays on the science of fall color at my other fall color site, as well as a list of what colors each tree turns: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51BQfPeSK8k”

    Map conceived by Howard Neufeld and Michael Denslow, constructed by Michael Denslow

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    September 14, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network
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    September 7, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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    The summer of 2013 will go down as the wettest on record for the area, and for many residents it will go down as one that was not a summer at all. Attention is turning quickly toward fall and what might it bring.

    Dr. Howard Neufeld is not only Professor of Plant Eco-physiology at Appalachian State University, but he is also known as The Fall Color Guy. Along with sharing his expertise with the NC Division of Tourism each fall, in 2012 he allowed WataugaRoads.com to share his insight and information.

    Once again in 2013 WataugaRoads.com is teaming up with The Fall Color Guy to provide information as the colors start changing. On Monday of this week (July 29, 2013) WataugaRoads.com asked the question about what we might see with fall colors this year due to the amount of rain received.

    Dr.Neufeld replied:

    “1. People think fall colors are good when they last a long time, and have plenty of brilliant reds interspersed with the oranges and yellows. So, the quality will depend on how much “redness” we have this fall.

    2. Trees tend to make more red colors (anthocyanins) in the fall when it’s cool and sunny, and if we have a slight but not severe drought. This year, cloudy, rainy, no drought!

    3. Sunny days means more photosynthesis, and more sugars produced in the leaves, and sugars induce anthocyanin production.

    4. A slight drought impairs uptake of nitrogen (we think) and some experiments suggest that plants low on N make more anthocyanins.

    5. If it is rainy, then there is less photosynthesis, fewer sugars, and more nitrogen uptake (soils are wetter for longer), and hence, trees may make fewer anthocyanins.

    6. So, if the weather keeps consistent, we may see duller red colors this fall. The oranges and yellows should be as usual, as they do not depend as much on light or drought.

    7. How long the fall color will last is another thing, and also, it is unknown if a wet summer will change the timing of fall colors.

    8. Usually, fall colors peak around Oct 11-14 in the Boone area; sooner by a few days up to a week at higher elevations, later at lower ones. Nice colors can stick around for a week or more, although the peak usually comes and goes in just a few days, weather permitting (no high winds for example).

    9. If the wet conditions extend the growing season, then the initiation of fall colors might be delayed by several days, or, if trees decide that they’ve got all they need for this season, they may initiate fall colors early instead. We just don’t know at this point. It will also depend on what the weather does in late August through September.”

    Scroll below for a look at what happened in 2012. Also check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at his ASU page where you can also read about the science of fall colors.

    Aug 20, 2013 on ASU campus. Photo: Kara Harmon
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    Aug 6, 2013. Photo: Kenneth Reece

    Leaves Aug 6, 2013 (1)

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    On Tuesday July 30, 2013 Anita Presnell shared these photos of some early changes from Valle Crucis Park.

    Photos by Anita Presnell from Valle Crucis Park on Tuesday July 30,2013.

    Photos by Anita Presnell from Valle Crucis Park on Tuesday July 30,2013.

    Photos by Anita Presnell from Valle Crucis Park on Tuesday July 30,2013.

    Photos by Anita Presnell from Valle Crucis Park on Tuesday July 30,2013.

    Photos by Anita Presnell from Valle Crucis Park on Tuesday July 30,2013.

    Photos by Anita Presnell from Valle Crucis Park on Tuesday July 30,2013.

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    You can find more information from The Fall Color Guy at the following links:

    http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors/fall-color-report-week-september-10-2012

    http://www.fallcolorguy.blogspot.com/

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fall-Color-Guy/222437294470967