A late spring frost in the White Mountains, NH resulted in swaths of autumn-like color in trees at around 2500 feet in elevation this summer. The AMC Research team monitoring tree canopy development as part of an Appalachian Trail wide ecological monitoring program (AT Seasons) also observed this unusual coloration in individual trees. Starting in late May and early June we noticed that some of the leaves looked reddish brown.
The culprit was frost damage that stopped leaf development at the tops of the trees before they had grown to full size. We recorded below freezing temperatures at the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center’s NOAA climate station during May 23rd to May 25th. According to the NH Division of Forests and Lands the frost damage was widespread throughout the White and Green Mountains. A similar event happened in 2010 when record warm spring temperatures were followed by a late frost event May 9th-11th. Researchers examined that earlier event in the context of leaf development and overall damage (Hufkens et al., 2012) in trees up to 2,700 elevation. They concluded that sugar maple leaf out responds relatively stronger to warming spring temperatures, therefore they may be more at risk from spring frosts than beech and yellow birch, putting them at a competitive disadvantage.
Fall foliage bust?
G. Murray, AMC Staff Scientist