c. Martin Seck

Fall Foliage Unveiled

October 19, 2016

Fall is in full swing in Prospect Park, and the season is as beautiful as it is fleeting. From the Long Meadow to the Lullwater, the Park’s foliage is a riot of colors, but why does an oak tree blush red while the ginko glows gold? According to Prospect Park Alliance arborists, the answer is in the very leaves themselves.

Most leaves are green in the spring and summer due to the presence of the pigment chlorophyll, a necessary ingredient in photosynthesis. But as autumn approaches, changes occur. “Days are shortening, and winter is coming,” says John Jordan, Director of Landscape Management at the Prospect Park Alliance. “The tree is getting ready to go dormant as a natural part of its lifecycle.” 

As the seasons change, trees respond to the decrease in sunlight by slowing their production of chlorophyll, allowing us to see the other pigments hiding in the leaves. Within a matter of weeks, leaves fade from green into the spectrum of familiar fall colors. Pigments called carotenoids (red, yellow and orange) and anthocyanins (red and blue) take center stage.

“Since chlorophyll has a simpler chemical structure, it degrades more quickly,” says Prospect Park Alliance Arborist Chris Gucciardo, “leaving behind these other pigments, which are responsible for the spectacular fall colors that leave us in wonder.”

So what area should park lovers make sure to visit during this time of year?

“My favorite spot for leaf peeping is along the Park Drive by the lakeshore,” says Jordan. “In that stretch of drive from Park Circle to the LeFrak Center at Lakeside there are many stunning maples with tremendous fall color display each year.”
Gucciardo recommends “walking through the Midwood, which perhaps most resembles our native forests in structure, species composition and surely fall color.”

Ready to get out and take in the stunning shades? Read suggestions for four foliage walks through Prospect Park, or stop by PopUp Audubon this month, where Prospect Park Alliance educators will lead fun fall foliage activities for families.