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“The best autumn colors occur under dry and cool but not freezing weather. The National Weather Service has posted their seasonal outlooks indicating that weather in the central Sierra this fall is likely to be warmer and drier than average, so we could be in for a spectacular fall display. Leaves have been using pigments such as chlorophylls, xanthophyll, and carotenoids all spring and summer to make food from air, water, and sunlight. With temperatures cooling and days getting shorter, leaves on deciduous trees stop producing chlorophylls and the familiar green color fades away to reveal the other pigments which have been masked all season. California black oak, big-leaf maple, and quaking aspen are already beginning to display the yellow carotenoids. Continued sunny days and cool nights traps sugars in leaves and some leaves will form the red pigment anthocyanin, coloring trees like dogwoods or the non-native sugar maple near the Chapel, or vines like the poison-oak along the El Portal Road a brilliant orange, pink, or even purple. The degree of color may vary from tree to tree and even leaf to leaf. Leaves directly exposed to the sun may turn red, while shaded leaves may be yellow. Leaves on some trees like white alders or California buckeyes (which are “summer deciduous” as a drought adaptation) just wither and turn brown. Leaves on marsescent trees, like some California black oaks, will linger all winter and only fall next spring when new leaves emerge. Live oaks, tanoaks, bay laurel and the conifers will keep their newest leaves throughout the winter to get a head start on food production next spring.” (NPS)

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