Leave it to Nature: Lessons on fall colours

If you’re anything like me you know the feeling of sheer excitement when the leaves begin to change colour in fall. As trees begin to brace for… dare I say, for those less excited, winter, our favourite natural spaces in Ontario transform into colourful works of art.

It’s also a busy time of year within natural areas as many birds begin their migrations, and mammals, herptiles, insects and even fish begin adjusting for the coming months of winter.

Trees are no exception. Each year green leaves found within Ontario landscapes turn into rich red, gold, yellow and orange foliage. Imprinting our memories once more of how wondrous nature truly is.

Before the shift from green to red, gold and yellow, the anticipation of this process inspires many, like myself, to get out and explore. The natural environment is constantly changing and I was reminded of this on a recent trip to Lake Dalrymple in Carden. But not in the way that you would first expect.

On October 1st the leaves had barely begun their transformation from [mainly] green to red, yellow and orange, when their seasonal norms would suggest they would typically be changing.

When speaking with residents and cottage-goers I knew that there was concern for the lack of vibrance among the treeline. Day trips to Algonquin Park were postponed, resulting in a shift in demand from tourism operators.

So why the delay in leaf colour change, you ask?

Warmer temperatures this fall have had the biggest impact on the delayed fall colours, and made for an extended growing season. In a way, like us, the trees are taking advantage of the extended “summer-like” weather that we have experienced in Ontario.

The arrival of fall colours is strongly influenced by factors such as soil moisture, and available hours of sunlight per day. As temperatures begin to plummet, soil moisture decreases, and the sun sets earlier as days progress, trees will begin to “shut down”, or conserve energy for the winter. This primarily applies to deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves in preparation for winter), like the sugar maple. As opposed to coniferous (or cone-bearing) trees such as white pine which are able to sustain their leaves (needles) throughout the winter months.

The colour transformation process in leaves occurs when their chemical composition changes. The result is classic fall colours that are sought after, year after year for viewing.

When looking through an optimistic lens, it’s clear that nature is continually teaching us valuable lessons. How to be patient, resilient and adaptable when awaiting the colour displays. In the face of a changing climate, all Earth systems are adapting, or will try and adapt in some way or another. The delayed fall colours of fall 2017 are no exception.

I’m grateful for opportunities to view the marvels of nature in every season. I’m confident in saying that lessons learned from the natural environment fuel passion for nature conservation.

Originally appearing on www.MudInspired.com. Also published in the Orillia Packet and Times, for www.CouchichingConservancy.ca Land Trust.