WASHINGTON – Maryland’s fall foliage display could be a little bit better and a little bit worse as a result of the drought settling in over the state, plant experts say.
Black gums, for example, will turn a more vivid shade of red this year, said Dorcas Coleman, who writes and records the state’s Fall Foliage Hotline, which updates tourists on where trees have changed color.
Other tree varieties, said forestry officials, could brown more quickly and drop their leaves sooner because of the lack of rain. Maryland has not enjoyed meaningful rain since the end of August, when just over an inch fell at Baltimore/Washington International Airport.
In Garrett County, where the state’s fall display typically begins, some brown spots may be visible among large groups of trees, said Western Maryland Regional Forester Bob Webster.
But “the very tops of ridges seem okay,” Webster said. “Some (patches) are sizeable and some aren’t.”
About 25 percent of the leaves have begun to change, said Coleman, but only in Garrett County, where peak viewing comes in mid-October. The state’s season ends around the second week of November with the fading colors in St. Mary’s County.
“Things are just starting,” she said. The timing of the color change may vary by a few days from year-to-year, she added, but everything is on schedule.
Leaves’ colors change as the chlorophyll, which makes them green, breaks down, revealing orange, red and yellow hues. Trees also begin to cut off the water and nutrient supply to leaves in order to store those resources during the winter for spring. The leaves then fall off the tree.
Joe Sullivan, a plant ecologist at the University of Maryland, said without more moisture the leaves, like those on the trees at his Brookville home, will brown and drop early without passing through the color changing phase.
Some rain could help foliage rebound, although it is relatively late this year, he said. Most parts of Maryland are expecting downpours beginning today.
Garrett County’s peak leaf peeping will come in the next week to 10 days, just in time for the town of Oakland’s 38th annual “Autumn Glory” festival. The celebration is organized to coincide with the county’s best blaze of color.
Charley Ross, the president and chief executive officer of the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce, expects up to 100,000 people to visit the area next week. More than 50 percent of the county is covered with trees, he said
“There’s virtually no place you can go without seeing foliage,” Ross said.
Each of the 20 cabins at Herrington Manor State Park is booked for next week’s festivities said Leonard Ford, the park’s assistant manager.
“I expect next week it ought to be real pretty up here,” Ford said.