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Peak Leaf Season Is Coming, Here’s The Breakdown For Your WNC Elevation

Courtesy of Western Carolina University
Western Carolina University is nestled between the Blue Ridge and the Great Smoky Mountains.

  Some locations shine in summer or winter but arguably the mountains are the best when there is a chill in the air and bright colors are on the trees.  


Now that summer is winding down, we can expect the leaves to start changing says Beverly Collins, a biology professor and the proclaimed autumnal soothsayer of Western Carolina University.


“It’s starting right now and it will really pick up during the end of September and the beginning of October,” says Collins. “It might be a little slow this year because of the warm temperatures that we are still experiencing. They might slow the breakdown of the green pigments.”  


Collins studies the processes of plants such as the changing of the leaves. Here’s how the transition happens:


“As the days start to shorten the leaves start to make less of the green pigment chlorophyll which lets the other pigments that are in the leaf - the yellows and the oranges - shine through,” she says.


The peak leaf season will be during October but the exact week will depend on the elevation, according to Collins. North of Asheville at high elevation will peak at the end of September. The colors will then move down the mountains until the low country close to South Carolina is in its prime in November. Collins explains that the mountains make the colors look even better.


“If you’re up high or you are looking out over a vista you can see all of these colors intermingled and that’s one of the reasons that the view out from our mountains is so nice during the fall,” she says.

Collins adds to look out especially for the varieties of colors in red maples, oaks and yellow hickory trees that are common in this area.


Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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