The long period of unusually dry and hot weather is having a dramatic, visual impact on the mountains of eastern Kentucky. The leaves are turning color. The hillsides look more like mid-October than early September. It seems that a frost is not the only form of environmental stress that can produce red and yellow leaves in our forests. An article yesterday in the Lexington Herald-Leader, spoke of some of the effects of the drought in the southeast:
In Alabama, for example, state climatologist John Cristy says that most areas have seen less rain this year than at any time since records started in 1894.I first posted about early leaf color change in 2005, when I noted one particular species of tree turning red as early as mid-August. Well this year this species turned red in mid-July.
"I've seen oak trees that have died on the ridges, which means this is the worst drought they've experienced," Cristy said.
I'm still trying to get help pinning down the species of my mystery tree. I'm fairly certain I'm looking at something in the horse chesnut or buckeye family -- with five to seven obovate leaves in a fan like cluster. The catch is that the leaves of these trees turn scarlet -- not yellow -- and all the reference books depict bright yellow fall leaves for all of this tree family in my region. I was actually thought for a while thinking they were black tupelos (same leaf shape and red fall color, but the leaves aren't grouped in that tell-tail fan like configuration).