A Season of Change: Fall in the White Mountains

As the days grow shorter and winter's chill creeps over the horizon, the natural landscape undergoes some dramatic and often beautiful changes. For us humans, Fall represents the harvest and our gladness in these gifts. I have many fond memories of apple picking and enjoying my ambrosial treat under a Maple, unaware of the changes taking place around me. As the weeks progress, the New England landscape transforms itself into a fiery mosaic of color.

When the warm (often wet) days of summer are gone, the machinery ofrom chemical pigments that are present in the leaves all summer, hidden by the green pigment of chlorophyll. Pigments called carotenoids and xanthophylls give the yellow, orange, and brownish colors of many leaves. These accessory pigments capture additional light to be used in the process of photosynthesis to make food for the plant.

Anthocyanin a pigment produced by leaves with high sugar content, is responsible for the brilliant reds. In the warmth of fall days, sugar is produced in the leaves, and then trapped by the night’s chill. This f nature slows down. Many plants, including New England’s well known Maple, shut down their metabolic processes, and in response their colors change. The bright colors we see are sugar bonds with other pigments, forming Anthocyanins. These pigments are thought to help with disease resistance as well as additional light capture.

View from the Parapet near Mt. Madsion

Here at Pinkham notch, the changes in color are barely noticeable. However, as the season progresses, we will be treated to one of nature’s most magnificent displays. Keep an eye out for changes at and around mountain summits, as fall progress much quicker at those elevations. This view from near Madison shows some browns in the grasses but not much change in the valley. Plants up in the alpine zone and down in the valley are fruiting as well. Mountain Cranberry, a delicious alpine treat is in full fruit, providing fall migrants a sugar boost for their long journey south.

Mountain Cranberry in Fruit

Check back weekly for updated pictures and information as the season progresses.

David Weston
Backcountry Education Assistant