Broadcasting from New England last week, the BBC’s Autumnwatch team proudly declaimed it the best place in the world to witness the drama of the season. And the symphony of rich autumnal colours erupting among the region’s 6.5 billion trees certainly looked fabulously fiery on camera.
But there are also glorious leaf peeping spots to be found on this side of the pond and at Sheffield Park a few miles north of Lewes in East Sussex, the foliage is putting on one hell of a show at present. Golden larches glisten, Japanese maples blush, Persian ironwoods glow. The black gums, native to North America, preen their colours of the rainbow like peacocks.
Mother nature hard at work
This great spectacle of nature isn’t mere showboating though. Just as our thoughts are starting to turn towards soup and woolly jumpers, the deciduous trees are getting ready for winter.
Pigments in the leaves cause the colour change – orange and yellow come from carotenoids which are present all year but masked by the green of the chlorophyll until production starts to slow down; the reds, pinks and purples are from anthocyanins which are made from new by some species. This year the reds are outstandingly vivid in Sheffield Park, perhaps because we’ve had plenty of sunshine which is helping to enhance the conversion of leftover sugars.
It might seem odd that some trees produce a new pigment just ahead of shutting down. One theory put forward by Autumnwatch is that they are developing their own brand of sunscreen against the warm autumnal rays because they are more vulnerable to light stress and damage when trying to save energy.
Once the leaves have turned, it’s time to fall and this shedding – known as abscission – enables the trees to conserve precious water before temperatures drop and the ground freezes.
Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
Emily Bronte, from Fall, leaves, fall
I’ve written about the therapeutic benefits of forest bathing before and just sitting and mindfully drinking in the spectacular palette of natural colour that autumn has to offer certainly did this old soul a world of good last week ahead of hibernation.
But don’t just take my word for it, there are any number of famed beauty spots in the UK, from the rolling Welsh hills and valleys to the mature forests of Scotland which were voted a few years ago by the Lonely Planet as one of the top places in the world to leaf peep. We are due one last glorious burst of sunshine before a three week cold snap arrives at the end of this week so warm yourself with a blaze of reds, oranges and yellows while you still can.