UNIONTOWN — With a few days of autumn already under the belt, the colors of fall have already begun to peek through across the district.
Fans — oftentimes called leaf peepers — can expect plenty of vibrant color this season thanks to summer’s plentiful rainfall.
“With the amount of rain we had this summer, the trees are entering fall pretty healthy,” said Dave Planinsek, forester with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry.
Planinsek works out of an office in Laughlintown, Westmoreland County, which manages Forbes State Forest that consists of 60,000 acres in Fayette, Westmoreland and Somerset counties.
Planinsek said, “Plants need sunlight, water and nutrients from soil. We had ample rainfall throughout the summer, so they should be able to maintain photosynthesis and tree health. Water is one of the essential things they need.”
Add to that recipe sunny days and cool crisp nights that can be found this time of year.
“We’ve had nights in the 40s and days in the 60s and sunny,” said Planinsek. “That adds brilliant color to fall foliage.”
He noted, “We’re certainly on track for a really good fall.”
Fall brings local residents outdoors and people from other states to Pennsylvania, where a diversity of topography and forests mean a long fall foliage season.
In fact, the state Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources talks about how special the state’s foliage is on its website that includes pages for the Bureau of Forestry.
“Pennsylvania has a longer and more varied fall foliage season than any other state in the nation — or anywhere in the world. This is no empty boast. Only three regions of the world support deciduous forests that display fall autumn color: eastern North America; the British Isles and parts of northwestern Europe; northeastern China and northern Japan. Forests in other regions are either tropical or dominated by conifers,” reported the website, noting the state includes 134 species of trees as well as shrubs and vines that contribute to the autumn color.
The website also noted, “Pennsylvania is the meeting ground of northern trees that flourish only on mountain tops farther south and southern species that are at the northern limits of their range. Gray and paper birch, mountain maple and mountain-ash from the north share Penn’s Woods with southern red oak, sweet bay and umbrella magnolias, sourwood, persimmon and sweet gum from the south.
“Ohio buckeye, bur oak, and shingle oak, common to the Mississippi Valley, have eastern outposts on the Allegheny Plateau.”
Autumn drives through the mountains and countryside can take tourists through a variety of these woods and near a number of attractions. Those planning trips should keep in mind that forests in the mountains will peak in mid-October while the lowlands, which includes western Fayette, Greene and Washington counties will peak a week later.
Trees responsible for some of that color include the black gum, which is one of the first leaves to turn and stands out as scarlet red.
“Maples are a prominent species that are probably some of the most colorful in the fall and pretty common in the forest,” said Planinsek, naming the sugar maple and red maple trees that turn yellow, orange and red.
The oaks are the final species of trees to turn with leaves that range from yellow to brown to bronze. Planinsek said they hold on until the third week of October.
Planinsek said the western section includes poplar trees that turn bright yellow and hickory leaves that turn golden yellow.
The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website offers more insight on forests as well as a weekly foliage report that begins this week at www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry.