The science behind the magic: Fall color explained

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Untitled, photo by Scottie

The Science of Color in Autumn Leaves from the United States National Arboretum is such an excellent explanation of the science behind the magic of Michigan’s fall color show that I try and share it every year:

The process that starts the cascade of events that result in fall color is actually a growth process. In late summer or early autumn, the days begin to get shorter, and nights are longer. Like most plants, deciduous trees and shrubs are rather sensitive to length of the dark period each day. When nights reach a threshold value and are long enough, the cells near the juncture of the leaf and the stem divide rapidly, but they do not expand. This abscission layer is a corky layer of cells that slowly begins to block transport of materials such as carbohydrates from the leaf to the branch. It also blocks the flow of minerals from the roots into the leaves. Because the starting time of the whole process is dependent on night length, fall colors appear at about the same time each year in a given location, whether temperatures are cooler or warmer than normal.

During the growing season, chlorophyll is replaced constantly in the leaves. Chlorophyll breaks down with exposure to light in the same way that colored paper fades in sunlight. The leaves must manufacture new chlorophyll to replace chlorophyll that is lost in this way. In autumn, when the connection between the leaf and the rest of the plant begins to be blocked off, the production of chlorophyll slows and then stops. In a relatively short time period, the chlorophyll disappears completely.

This is when autumn colors are revealed. Chlorophyll normally masks the yellow pigments known as xanthophylls and the orange pigments called carotenoids — both then become visible when the green chlorophyll is gone. These colors are present in the leaf throughout the growing season. Red and purple pigments come from anthocyanins. In the fall anthocyanins are manufactured from the sugars that are trapped in the leaf. In most plants anthocyanins are typically not present during the growing season.

As autumn progresses, the cells in the abscission layer become more dry and corky. The connections between cells become weakened, and the leaves break off with time. Many trees and shrubs lose their leaves when they are still very colorful. Some plants retain a great deal of their foliage through much of the winter, but the leaves do not retain their color for long. Like chlorophyll, the other pigments eventually break down in light or when they are frozen. The only pigments that remain are tannins, which are brown.

The explain that because the starting time of the whole process is dependent on night length, fall colors appear at more or less the same time every year and are not overly dependent on temperature, rainfall or other factors, other than the fact that weather can shorten or prolong the show by stripping leaves from trees.

Click through to the US Arboretum for more and also see Fall & Fuit from the Science of Color!

View Scotties’ photo bigger and see more in his Infrared slideshow.

Tons more fall photos on Michigan in Pictures!

Wild & Scenic Rivers: September color along the Carp River

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West from the Lake of the Clouds, photo by Jim Sorbie

Glints of yellow, orange and red are starting to pop up around the state, so it’s probably time to get some fall wallpaper for your computer! Check that link for a ton and get fall color reports and color touring ideas from the Pure Michigan Fall Color page!

It’s also been a while since I added a Michigan Wild & Scenic River to the blog, so here’s the somewhat brief entry for the Carp River from the National Wild & Scenic Rivers:

The Carp River, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, flows through predominantly forested lands with little development along its way. Spring’s high water provides for canoeing and offers steelhead fishing and dipping for smelt near the river’s mouth. Summer is the time for brook or brown trout, and fall brings salmon fishing. The Carp is known for its outstanding recreation, wildlife, geologic, ecological, fisheries and heritage resource values. The river flows through the Mackinac Wilderness Area.

Michigan has 16 nationally designated Wild & Scenic Rivers – get them all at that link!

View Jim’s photo background bigtacular and see more in his Color Tour 2014 – UP & Canada slideshow.

First Day of Fall Puffballs

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Happy First Day of Autumn, photo by Julie

The spring, summer, is quite a hectic time for people in their lives, but then it comes to autumn, and to winter, and you can’t but help think back to the year that was, and then hopefully looking forward to the year that is approaching.
-Enya

Happy second day of fall everyone. I’m usually pretty good about marking that seasonal stuff, but in my defense, I DID eat some puffballs the day before yesterday and marked a few today.

In case you’re interested in exploring edible, wild mushrooms, the giant puffball is considered one of the “Foolproof Four” – widespread and easy to identify mushrooms. Mushroom Appreciation’s page on Giant Puffball mushrooms has lots of pictures, puffball facts, and identification tips and says (in part):

Giant puffballs are saprotrophs, meaning they feed on dead organic matter. They’re more likely found in meadows and grasslands than in the forest. They are always found growing on the ground rather than up in trees.

Giant puffballs are aptly named. They are usually quite large, reaching soccer ball size or bigger. They usually have a circumference (distance around) of 4 to 30 inches, although larger ones are not uncommon. There is no distinct cap and stem with these mushrooms; instead they exist as just large, white globes. They may not be perfectly round. Giant puffballs are white with firm white flesh inside. If they appear yellowish or brown is means that the mushroom is about to/has gone to spore, and is not edible anymore.

…Correct identification is crucial. If you think you’ve found a giant puffball the first thing to do is cut it open. It should have thick, hard, white flesh inside. Don’t eat anything with a brown, black, purple, or yellow interior. It may be an earthball (Scleroderma citrinum) or some other gastric distress inducing mushroom.

This white flesh should be solid with no gills. If you see any evidence of gills disregard immediately. Some species, including the deadly Amanita, have a “universal veil” of tissue that surrounds the mushroom when young. This can make it look like a puffball.

Inexperienced hunters should check with someone knowledgeable if they think they’ve found a giant puffball. An incorrect guess can kill if it turns out to be an Aminita! Please be careful.

Julie shared the Enya quote above, and she shares a ton of great photos in the Absolute Michigan pool. Check her photo out bigger and get yourself in the spirit of the season with her Fall slideshow!

If you do find a giant puffball, here’s a recipe from the Mycological Society of San Francisco’s excellent page on Puffballs from Hope Miller, coauthor of the book Mushrooms in Color.

  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • About 1 pound puffballs, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten with 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 tablespoons butter or more if needed
  • 2 tablespoons oil or more if needed

Mix the salt with the flour. Dip the mushroom slices in the flour, then in the egg, and last, in the cheese. Melt the butter and oil in a sauté pan or skillet and sauté the mushrooms slowly until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve at once.

OK. I can do that.

Today & Yesterday at Point Iroquois Lighthouse

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Point Iroquois Lighthouse on Whitefish Bay, photo by Cole Chase Photography

The Point Iroquois Lighthouse page at Terry Pepper’s Seeing the Light has a 100+ hear old photo of the light taken from almost exactly the same angle as Cole’s! View his bigger and see more great shots from fall of 2014 in his Autumn in Upper Michigan slideshow.

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Point Iroquois Light Station in 1905, showing the fog signal building constructed in 1890. Note that the 1885 bell tower is still in place to the immediate left of the dwelling.

The photo is courtesy of the Point Iroquois Lighthouse and Historical Museum, and you can click the link for more about the museum!

Waterfall Wednesday: Quartzite Falls on the Slate River

Quartzite Falls on the Slate River

Quartzite Falls on the Slate River, photo by Amie Lucas

Waterfalls of the Keewenaw’s page on Quartzite Falls says:

Quartzite Falls is a perfect little waterfall high above the rugged gorge on Slate River. The river drops in a sudden crescent onto a large, flat slide of slate before flowing into a deep pool surrounded by cedars. Quartzite Falls may be small, but it’s shape and scenic area makes for an amazing waterfall experience.

This waterfall is a short distance downstream of Black Slate Falls, easy walking distance from the road and about a mile from the slate quarries of Arvon. These three areas make for an excellent little adventure that is fairly accessible for all ages.

You can click through for directions and some pics. Amie took this back in October and writes:

The Slate River is magnificent. I spent an entire day traversing over rough, steep terrain & wading through cold water on slippery rocks to visit places that felt like no one had ever been before. Quartzite Falls, one of the many beauties on this river, is one of the easier waterfalls to access.

View her photo background bigilicious, follow her on Facebook and definitely check out her waterfall gallery and others at her photography website!

Many more Michigan waterfalls and (if you can’t let go of autumn) more fall wallpaper on Michigan in Pictures!

Red Jack Lake Sunrise

Red Jack Lake Sunrise

Red Jack Lake Sunrise, photo by John Dykstra

View John’s photo background bigilicious and see more in his Michigan slideshow.

Here’s a map to Red Jack Lake near Munising and here’s more Michigan lakes and more fall wallpaper on Michigan in Pictures.

PS: Trying out Facebook’s new photo carousel on the Michigan in Pictures Facebook

 

Definitions of Danger

Surfing the Storm

California Dreamin’, photo by Snap Happy Gal Photography

Heather of Snap Happy Gal Photography was one of many photographers who made the trek to Grand Haven for a weekend storm that was supposed to produce massive waves. While Heather says she didn’t see anything quite as big as the the 20-footers forecast, the lake was still putting on a rocking show!

Often when I post a photo like this, I get some blowback from a reader or two who thinks that pictures like this aren’t OK because someone might somehow get hurt. Heather’s thoughts mirror my own on this:

So this guy – with his superior swimming ability, experience and thick wetsuit (with gloves, booties, and full hood + helmet) is crazy. Who would ever put their life in such danger?

Oh – all of us. All the time. Like when I drove in a metal box at 75mph on my way to take photos of this guy.

View this bigger and definitely follow Snap Happy Gal on Facebook for more!

More Michigan surfing shots on Michigan in Pictures!