Slow colours are good news

Photo by Stanley Zimney

As recently as last week, green was still the dominant colour of Muskoka’s leaves. The colours are coming on strong now, but peak reds and golds will be after Thanksgiving this year, followed by some really underappreciated browns and yellows.

Is this later than usual? Yes and no. It is a bit later, but Thanksgiving is also the earliest it can be (the second Monday of October is always somewhere between the 7th and the 14th. Last year it was the 8th, the year before the 9th; next year it will be the 14th.) That can throw you off if you judge colours by how they look at Thanksgiving.

Right now it looks like peak colours in Muskoka will be the weekend after Thanksgiving, or maybe even later than that. It depends on the weather, and how much wind and rain we get.

Of course, when we say “peak colours,” most people are referring to the reds and golds of maples; the lovely and subdued yellows and browns of the aspens and oaks will likely last to the end of October or even into November, if winds don’t blow all the leaves off early. They don’t always look as stunning from the window of a car, but take a stroll in the woods when the red leaves have fallen and you’ll find yourself in a mystical world of yellows and golds.

The beloved reds aren’t just a different look; they’re caused by a different chemical process than the yellows and oranges. All leaves have a certain amount of carotenoid or xanthophyll, the chemicals that show as orange or yellow. Those colours are masked in summer, when the leaves are full of green chlorophyll.

In August, chlorophyll production stops, and the chemical begins to decay in the leaves. This lets the oranges and yellows show through.

But reds come from anthocyanin, which is only produced after chlorophyll production stops. Not all trees produce it, or produce it in the same amounts, but scientists believe it is used by some trees – notably maples – to strip the last remaining nutrients from the leaves before they separate from the tree.

The more sugar in the tree sap, the higher the levels of anthocyanins. If we have an abundance of sunny days and cool nights late in the summer, we get brilliant displays of reds. Did we get enough of the right weather this year? Opinions are mixed, but most are forecasting an amazing display of reds when they finally show up, based on the hot days and cool nights we enjoyed in September.

Time will tell, but even without the reds, it’s always a gorgeous display in Muskoka. You can see weekly updates at

The best place to view the leaves is often from the lake, so if your boat is still in the water (and the weather cooperates) be sure to take in a last cruise.

If you really want to see peak colour this weekend, head to Algonquin Park – it is a couple of weeks ahead of Muskoka, and the colours are stunning at this time of year. But be advised: thousands of visitors flood into the park every Thanksgiving, sometimes creating massive traffic jams at the park gate.

You’re probably best to stick to back roads and country lanes around Muskoka, and enjoy the show.



Posted in Around Muskoka, Blog, Connecting with Nature.