Tuesday, Nov 12 2013 06:00 AM

Pen in hand: The increasing colorful autumn in the Tehachapi Mountains

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A Scarlet Oak planted at the Aspen Building on E Street glows with autumn color.

A Red Maple leaf glows like a stained glass window as the late afternoon sun shines through it.

It isn't just ornamental trees that get color -- grapes vines like these in Cliff Meredith's Highline vineyard also turn subtle colors as the days shorten and the nights cool down.

A Liquid Amber leaf is like a hand-painted masterpiece of autumn color.

A Ginkgo tree on Curry Street has brilliant gold-green colors.

A Scarlett Oak leaf in Downtown Tehachapi lives up to its name.

Regular readers of this column know that I love our native flora and fauna, and promote the planting of trees, shrubs and other perennials that our native to these mountains. Despite this, however, I must say that I enjoy all the fall color that now accompanies each autumn as a result of all the ornamental trees that have been used for landscaping.

Most of our native trees don't develop as vibrant colors, though Black Oaks do turn brilliant yellow and golden, and Fremont Cottonwoods turn yellow as well. But now that there are Liquid Amber, Red Maple, Dogwood, assorted Birch Trees, Scarlet Oak, Flowering Pear and many other beautiful tree species planted around homes and businesses throughout the area, autumn has gotten decidedly more colorful in our area.

Our 4,000-foot elevation and cold nights bring out the fall hues both subtle and intense, and the autumn rainbow of different trees looks right at home in the Tehachapi Mountains. As deciduous trees prepare to lose their leaves and go dormant for the winter, they stop producing chlorophyll and as this green pigment fades away, the leaves lose the vibrant green they've had all spring and summer.

Carotenoids, the pigments that give carrots their distinctive orange color, are present in many leaves and with the absence of cholorphyll, they become visible, creating a variety of shades of yellow, orange and brown. The reds and purples are created by anthocyanins, another groups of pigments -- these are the ones that create the red in red apples, strawberries, cherries, cranberries, etc. Unlike carotenoids, they are not present in the leaves all season, but are produced in the waning days of the leaf's existence, as the plant sugars manufactured by chlorophyll begin to break down.

The ideal fall weather for a colorful leaf display is chilly nights without a hard killing frost, and we generally have these conditions every autumn. A very cold night with heavy frost will cause many leaves to simply drop to the ground, even while still mostly green, and that doesn't provide much of a show. The leaves are at their best when they linger on the trees, experiencing a slow, Southern California mountain autumn where the nights gets progressively cooler even as daytime temperatures stay fairly warm.

Then the leaves become little stained-glass windows suspended in the trees, illuminated with the oblique light of early morning or late afternoon. These autumn-colored leaves are pretty even when the sun is directly overhead, but they positively glow when low angle light shines through them.

Our area will never have fall foliage tours or the "leaf peepers" who roam New England each fall in search of the best leaf displays, but the planting of thousands of ornamental trees and shrubs whose leaves turn color has decorated the landscaped portions of our valleys and mountains, and provided another great reason to be in Tehachapi in October and November. Get out and enjoy the painted leaves of autumn while they're still on the trees!

Have a good week.

Jon Hammond has written for the Tehachapi News for over 30 years. Send email to:

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