As the trees across the Mountain State shake off their leafy green wardrobe in favor of one colored in bright golds, reds and oranges, West Virginia University Forest Resources Professor & Extension Specialist Dave McGill has been monitoring the progress of the beautiful fall changes.
Autumn began on Sept. 22 and extends through Dec. 20. West Virginia is well-known for nature's brilliant colors during this time of year as the season dresses various trees, vines and shrubs.
McGill focuses on woodland owner outreach education and organization, which has fueled his expertise on tree species. As one of the University's resident leaf experts, McGill has been venturing out about once a week to see Mother Nature's progress into autumn.
McGill has recently traveled to Pocahontas County, Lewis County and Pendleton County, where he has consistently seen some species that aren't known for their bright colors making an impact this year.
"Right here in the region and other high elevation areas, there are just some remarkable red and deep maroon colors," the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design professor said. McGill also splits time with WVU Extension Service. "The Virginia Creeper is a beautiful vine that is green and has a palmately compound leaf, meaning that the five leaflets radiate out from a central point like spokes on a wheel. This is a vine that no one talks about much. And in the fall, all of a sudden, it lights up. It clothes the stem of the tree in a sheath of brilliant color."
"Another unusual one that's been gorgeous this year is poison ivy. It varies – but it can be reddish or turn a deep peach color. It's just spectacular. People probably don't recognize it as poison ivy – it's a climbing vine, so it'll climb up fence posts and large branches and spread out like a bouquet."
Higher elevations tend to see leaves change color first because of the lower temperatures. Lower temperatures lead to less production of chlorophyll, which is the chemical that makes plants reflect green. As chlorophyll fades, other colors show through, which gives leaves their fall color.
Mid-October is peak season for Monongalia County, as well as many north central counties. Late October is peak viewing season for the southwestern part of the state, according to the West Virginia Division of Forestry.
McGill said he is consulted every year to find out if it's going to be a bright season, but it's tough to tell.
"Whether we had a drought or plenty of rain – there's no good way to predict how bright a year will be. But, every year in West Virginia, there's something beautiful out there," he said.
McGill is also knowledgeable in invasive species control, non-timber forest products, forest regeneration systems, hardwood plantation silviculture and international forestry.