Bright red maple leaves color the morning light

I’ve always wanted to see the colors change in the Smoky Mountains. It’s a spectacular and unique display. Great bursts of warm color spring forth from the mountains and cascade down the slopes like a long, tantilizing sunset. It’s a sensuous mix of yellows, orange and reds that develop together over several weeks, starting in mid-Sept at the highest elevations (~6,000 feet) and  moving down the mountain slopes until they “peak” in ~3rd week of October and then fade. The whole thing is a color theatre in motion, and what a play it is!

A theatre of color near Erwin, TN

The most interesting thing is that the leaves hide these colors all year. The strong, warm orange and yellow colors are cartenoids which are usually hidden most of the year by green chlorophyll. As the days shorten and colder nights set-in, the green pigments deteriorate and allow the other colors to shine. The darker reds and purples come from anthocyanins produced when sugar breakdown changes with the season.

The reason it’s so spectacular particularly in the Appalachians is because they harbor over 100 different native species of trees, many of which are deciduous. So, trees such as the Birch, Dogwood, Poplar and Sourwood change first followed by Beech, Hickory, Oak and the Sweet Gum several weeks later.

A burst of flame in the canopy

It’s a chemical and biological colorscope which provides a feast for the eyes. So famous and so short is this display that it’s wildly popular with tourists and monitored by video cams, avid nauralists and even a Fall Foliage Hotline.

Of course we don’t need any of those things. Lucky as we are to be here, we can walk the changes as nature graces to give them to us. And that’s a gift we’ll take anyday.

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7 Responses to Fall Colors in the Smoky Mountains

  1. Leo Murray says:

    Hi Nina,

    I enjoy reading all your posts and especially liked the last two. It made me think that you might care to have a look at/listen to this video …….. put together by one of the individuals who came along with me to Central Mongolia this year:

    All the best.


    • libertatemamo says:

      What an amazing video! Your Mongolia trip is still on my mind (ever since Park in HK told me about it). I’ll have to feature you on the blog one of these days…if you let me of course :)

  2. Lauren Brown says:

    Hi Nina,

    Your photos leave me envious! Having grown up in northwestern PA, I know the beauty of fall colors and we don’t catch much of that in CA. Wish we could drop in on your and Paul to enjoy the peak days of color before the leaves all tumble to the ground.


    • libertatemamo says:

      Sure wish you could be here too…the photographic opportunities are wonderful (almost overwhelming :)) We’re loving the experience.

  3. […] year we experienced the fall colors in the Smoky Mountains, but I’d never seen the color-song of the Aspens in the west. What surprised me most was that […]

  4. […] and I can’t quite explain why. Granted the fall display isn’t as famous and varied as what you get on the east coast, but it’s still pretty darn fabulous and there are so few people here. This totally […]

  5. […] and SE) in cooler months will definitely make that easier. Our 2010 fall trip to the Smoky Mountains and the SE Coast (SC, GA) was an example of just such perfection. It was cool enough that there […]

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