True colors are showing

Coast redwood boasting colorful fall leaves at Humboldt Redwoods State Park in August.
Coast redwood boasting colorful fall leaves at Humboldt Redwoods State Park in August.

As summer rolls on every year, people always ask me with concern about why their redwoods have orange foliage. Is it a sign of drought? Is the redwood sick?

Luckily for the redwoods, the answer to these questions is quite simple: August and September mark the beginning of autumn in the redwood forest, and at this time the redwoods prepare to shed their oldest leaves. We call redwoods evergreen, meaning that they keep green leaves on their branches all year long, but old leaves still fall off in autumn. Before they fall off and land on the forest floor, they provide a brightly colored display for us to see.

To tell whether a redwood is simply showing its fall colors or is actually sick, I look at where the orange leaves are on the tree. A healthy tree will have clusters of orange foliage on the underside of branches and these patches of color will be scattered throughout the tree. In contrast, a sick tree would likely have entire branches or the treetop turning orange.

I love this early sign of autumn in the redwoods. Have you seen a redwood tree showing its true colors lately?

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About the author

Emily Burns, the League’s former Director of Science, led the research program that includes the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative. She holds a PhD in Integrative Biology on the impacts of fog on coast redwood forest flora from the University of California,...

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