Outdoors: Dazzling autumn displays make our woodlands the place to be
We are spoiled for choice in Scotland for the best places to see the full glory of autumn leaf colour and one of my favourite spots is the Bridge of Feugh near Banchory in Aberdeenshire.
It may be no more spectacular than anywhere else, but the combination of the russet tones of the beeches with the rushing sound of the nearby Water of Feugh brings together the very essence of this time of year.
Autumn is not just about colour, but also the smell, the heavy dampness of the air and nip of coldness. It is also a time of plenty with the hanging bunches of elderberries, the abundant haws and numerous other seed plants. It can be a time of procreation too, as witnessed at the Bridge of Feugh by the leaping salmon and sea trout making their way to their spawning grounds in the gravelly headwaters.
Of autumn’s star performers, the beech tree leads the way. Its fallen leaves are crisp to the touch, as if they have been toasted over a fire. Their colours change during the course of autumn, yellow at first before turning orange or reddish brown.
They drop and change colour because they have finished their job of capturing the maximum amount of sunlight, so vital in the manufacture of food for the tree. Even the angle of the stalk of each leaf continually adjusts during the course of a summer’s day to best capture sun rays. Leaves are complex engine rooms powered by sunlight which mix carbon dioxide from the air with water from the tree’s roots to produce life-giving sugars and starch.
Essential to the food-making process is chlorophyll, the light absorbing green pigment in leaves. It is the breakdown of chlorophyll in autumn that allows other pigments to become more apparent, giving leaves at this time of year their marvellous range of tints. Even once shed, leaves still have an important role to play, forming rich compost that returns valuable nutrients back to the soil. Leaf litter also provides shelter and food for a host of invertebrates.
Different trees exhibit different autumn colours. Two of my favourites are the birch and aspen. They provide a subtle display with their flutter-like leaves delivering a beautiful yellow that trembles in the wind. Other great displayers are the hornbeam – the leaves turn almost golden before they fall – and the oak with its warm brown leaves.
Autumn is one of the best times of year to fully appreciate our trees. It is also a time to reflect. There is an old and gnarled oak tree behind my house that stands alone at a field edge, and sometimes when passing it I mentally catalogue the major events in history that it must have lived through. And I’m not talking Second World War here, more Battle of Trafalgar and the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. The deep splits and fissures in the tree are in itself testament to the traumas endured over several human lifetimes from numerous storms.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east