Fall Color In The Northern Sierra Nevada Of Northeastern California
Autumn 2011 has been the strangest Fall color season yet in the Sierra Nevada of Northern California. Many types of trees in the Northern Sierra have had a leaf disease. I have seen it mainly effecting black oaks and some maples, but also showing up on the leaves of some Indian Rhubarb. The leaf disease has caused many deciduous trees to turn brown and not produce any Fall color at all. Because of erratic weather and temperatures, some trees without leaf disease dropped their green summer cloaks slower than usual, others changed into their Fall color dressing much faster than usual.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service puts out a report called Pest Alert. The following is what Pest Alert said about this leaf disease:
A phenomenon known as Sudden Oak Death was first reported in 1995 in central coastal California. Since then, tens of thousands of tanoaks (Lithocarpus densiflorus), coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia), and California black oaks (Quercus kelloggii) have been killed by a newly identified fungus, Phytophthora ramorum. On these hosts, the fungus causes a bleeding canker on the stem. The pathogen also infects Rhododendron spp., huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum), bay laurel (Umbellularia californica), madrone (Arbutus menziesii), bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita), and California buckeye (Aesculus californica). On these hosts the fungus causes leaf spot and twig dieback. As of January 2002, the disease was known to occur only in California and southwestern Oregon; however, transporting infected hosts may spread the disease. The pathogen has the potential to infect oaks and other trees and shrubs elsewhere in the United States. Limited tests show that many oaks are susceptible to the fungus, including northern red oak and pin oak, which are highly susceptible. On oaks and tanoak, cankers are formed on the stems. Cankered trees may survive for one to several years, but once crown dieback begins, leaves turn from green to pale yellow to brown within a few weeks. A black or reddish ooze often bleeds from the cankers, staining the surface of the bark and the lichens that grow on it. Bleeding ooze may be difficult to see if it has dried or has been washed off by rain, although remnant dark staining is usually present.
I have seen the red ooze or the dark stain on many leaves of many trees this Fall season. Some disease has also infected the aspens, the leaves of which in many cases this Fall turned straight from green to brown, or from green briefly to gold and then to brown. Before the last storm, some of the Indian Rhubarb looked like it was starting to show some good color. At first, in early October, it seemed all the tree species leaves were turning faster than usual, then for about a week everything turned very slowly. It was unusually warm into early October. We went skinny dipping in Indian Creek on October 1. It was a bit too cold to feel the elation Walt Whitman described in Leaves of Grass, but it was the first time we have ever swam in Indian Creek that late in the year without wetsuits and river rafts. In early October the oaks were just starting to go yellow and I’m sure the aspens were already turning up high. In the second week of October I heard that the aspens at higher elevations had gone straight from green leaves to brown. Here the few my mother planted were normal: their leaves turned from green to yellow and gold.
After being warm enough to skinny dip on October 1, it snowed the morning of October 5. The temperatures dropped from 85 plus degrees Fahrenheit in a few days down to 34 degrees with a light dusting of snow. The temperature drop brought on the Fall color. During the first week of October, in a sea of green leaves I saw only one yellow Indian Rhubarb leaf. Today I will go check on more patches of wild Indian Rhubarb, but I believe I missed the peak of the Fall color for the Indian Rhubarb, which is a shame. I had looked forward to a lot of Fall color photography this year, but it has been for the most part a disappointment, except for in my mother’s garden right around the house where her dogwoods and Japanese maples were consistently brilliant in oranges, yellows, and reds as usual. The Virginia Creeper also proved disappointing, changing straight from green to red without much in between this year. For more contemporary landscape photography see the blog post, “David Leland Hyde Archival Print Pre-Launch.”
Was your Fall color season unusual this year? Where did you photograph?