With a seasonal palette every bit as rich as New Hampshire in the fall, Scotland is a magnet for tourists flocking to admire the scenery in all its golden finery.
But this year, experts have revealed, Scotland is offering a double helping of autumn leaves lying thick and still.
Woodland conservationists say the summer’s exceptionally dry weather has caused many trees to show early autumnal hues and drop their leaves, creating a “fool’s autumn”, which they say is hard to distinguish from the “true” season.
Rory Syme, from the Woodland Trust Scotland, said: “When we have a particularly dry summer, this can lead to early autumn colour in some tree species, and in effect we’ll experience two autumns.
“True autumn colour is triggered by fading sunlight and cold temperatures. Leaves lose the chlorophyll that makes them green, revealing spectacular yellow and red pigments.
“Fool’s autumn colour is different. It’s caused by trees still struggling to cope with a dry summer. They wilt and drop their leaves early to save water.”
Research by the Woodland Trust over the past decade demonstrates that trees across Scotland usually show the first signs of real autumn colour during late September, with full tinting appearing in mid to late October. But this year some deciduous species are already wearing their autumn foliage.
Birch, sycamore and lime are those most noticeably changing early this year, according to the Trust, while trees such as rowan and oak are still holding their colour well.
Birch would usually start to display autumnal tinting at a similar time to rowan but this year, as birch foliage is yellowing and falling from its branches, most rowans are still green-leafed and bursting with ripe berries. Horse chestnut leaves are also starting to take on striking red colours just now, though this is likely to be “true” autumn colour since the species is one of the first to show the changes of the season, they revealed.
But while the drought conditions that caused this early leaf fall may slow tree growth, the increase in leaf litter can be beneficial for insects and fungi that share the same habitat.
According to Met Office records, August was Scotland’s driest since 2003 and July the hottest since 2006. The prolonged spell of warm, dry weather has also resulted in early harvests of everything from potatoes and brambles to sloes and mushrooms, and a boom in butterfly numbers.
And tourist bosses say Scotland’s double autumn will bring further bonuses to the industry following a successful summer, which saw steady visitor numbers across the country as a result of the hotter weather.
A VisitScotland spokesman said: “Scotland is renowned around the world for its fantastic scenery, and this is particularly pertinent during the autumn. The colours across the country at this time are glorious.
“To have the chance to see this for an extended period of time will be a joy for many visitors. Scotland is in the fortunate position to have something for everyone, at any time of the year.”
Chlorophyll – a chemical found in plants that allows them to absorb light – gives leaves their green colour and aids photosynthesis, the process whereby plants use sunlight to turn water and carbon dioxide into glucose for food and produce oxygen as a by-product.
Shortening days signal the trees to enter a period of rest for winter, when they live off energy stored during summer. This is when the chlorophyll disappears from leaves to reveal the season’s trademark yellows, reds, oranges and browns, before the foliage is finally shed.
The trust is now asking for members of the public to go down to the woods to help chart the season’s progress across the country over the next few weeks.