The peak of the fall foliage season has arrived.
The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) says fall colors generally peak between October 10 and 31 and vary from year to year, depending on temperature and the amount of precipitation.
This year, the westernmost part of the state, west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, has begun to peak and will continue until the 20th.
For the east side of Blue Ridge to a line east of Danville and west of Richmond, the peak will continue to the 25th.
The east side of the state is the last to hit all colors starting on the 20th and will continue through the end of the month.
Although it can be difficult to predict the exact timing of the change in color and intensity of fall, the VDOF produces a weekly report on fall foliage and the October 5 report indicates that green is still predominant. in most of Virginia, but there are little splashes of color everywhere. northern, western and central regions.
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Forests above 3,000 feet elevation in southwestern Virginia have up to 50% color change in some areas. In the Alleghenies there are patches of intense color and at lower elevations beautiful reds come from sumac, dogwood, black gum and red maple.
According to VDOF, the cooler nights ahead will promote the development of red pigments.
Overall, Piedmont is green splashed with yellow and pale orange with occasional flashes of red and dark brown dogwood, while on the coastal plain the colors change first in the wetlands, especially at the edges of the swamps, according to the report.
And don’t forget that trees planted in cities often color earlier than those in the woods.
Virginia is unique in that the variety of landscapes provides a longer fall foliage season than many other areas. The season begins at the highest elevations first, then moves east over a three-week period, according to the VDOF.
If you’ve ever wondered why leaves change color, it’s all down to the cycle of life.
A new leaf produces chlorophyll, which turns it green. As the leaf ages, chlorophyll production slows until it stops and yellow carotenoids in the leaf begin to appear.
Bright light, combined with an excess of plant sugars, produces anthocyanins giving off red and purple colors.
From a distance you may not be able to identify a tree, but in the fall you can count on a beech to produce colors ranging from yellow to orange, a dogwood will turn red and brown, hickory leaves will turn golden to bronze, red maple turns a bright scarlet, sugar maple turns bright orange, oaks vary from red to amber to russet, and poplar leaves turn golden yellow.
Last week, the VDOF recommended several driving tours with routes covering parts of northern, western and central Virginia.
“Virginia’s abundant hardwood forests provide weeks of beautiful foliage this time of year,” State Forester Rob Ferrell said in a statement. “The local routes that make up the fall foliage tour were suggested by long time forestry staff for a consistent and beautiful fall scenery year after year.”
The tours are advertised as “off the beaten path so you can enjoy a leisurely trip without the hassle of lots of road traffic”.
Of the nine recommended routes, the closest to Martinsville is a route in nearby Franklin County from Boones Mill on US Route 220.
- Turn west on State Route 739 (Bethlehem Road) on the north side of the Shell station. As you travel along Rt. 739, Cahas Mountain is on the right. Near Fairmont Baptist Church, rt. 739 turns right, but you must stay on Bethlehem Road, which is now State Route 643.
- At Callaway Road (State Route 641), turn right. The Blue Ridge Mountains can be seen in the background as you head towards Callaway.
- At Callaway’s A&A Market, stay on Callaway Road, which is now State Route 602.
- 0.2 mile turn left onto State Route 642 (Foothills Road) at Piedmont Presbyterian Church.
- Follow Foothills Road until it intersects Five Mile Mountain Road (State Route 748).
- Turn right on Five Mile Mountain Road (Rt. 748). The Blue Ridge Mountains are visible in the background.
- On State Route 640 (Turner’s Creed Road), you have the option of turning left and heading to Ferrum or staying on Five Mile Mountain Road (now Rt. 640), which will take you into Floyd County.
In Ferrum, you can visit the Blue Ridge Institute and Ferrum College, both located on US Route 40 to the left of the Turner’s Creek Road intersection. At Phoebe Needles Center, Turner’s Creek Road becomes Rt. 748. From Ferrum, take Rt. 40 east to Rocky Mount and Rt. 220 north to Boones Mill to complete the loop or take a ride on Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, The Crooked Road, on Rt. 40 West.
You can also take the Blue Ridge Parkway off of Rt. 640, about 1.5 miles from the Floyd and Franklin county line. Go left (south) on the boardwalk to Mabry’s Mill and other points south.
Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-591-7543. Follow him @billdwyatt.