Traverse City Record-Eagle

Northern Living

September 29, 2013

Fall Without Color?

TRAVERSE CITY — Fall without the blazing red, orange and yellow of changing leaves seems unthinkable.

But it’s a scenario that could come to pass, now that ash and beech trees are going the way of the elm and birch before them. Together the trees — ridden in recent years with pests and diseases that kill them — produce much of the golds and yellows in the region’s fall leaf show.

In fact, the color landscape already is changing, said photographer Bob Grzesiac, who co-leads seasonal photo tours on the Leelanau Peninsula. While the most colorful autumns depend on the weather, the mix of hardwoods is primarily responsible for the diversity of color.

“You get a lot of yellow with aspen and beech and birch and ash,” said Grzesiac, whose photo tours take participants to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and other spots in Leelanau County. “And all but one is in real trouble. First it was the birch. The (emerald ash) borer just decimated the ash. And now it’s the beech. The aspen is one of the few yellows left.

“We used to find these huge spreads looking across from Miller Hill and overlooking the D.H. Day Barn and the little lake there. You used to see screaming yellows and incredible oranges and scarlet reds. And you don’t anymore. What you think is yellow, up close is really brown. There isn’t the prism of colors anymore. It’s like a rainbow on a dull day. It’s just not quite there,” Grzesiac said.

Forests throughout Michigan are undergoing big changes as millions of beech and ash trees are killed off by the emerald ash borer, an Asian beetle that can infect large, healthy trees, killing them within three years, and by beech bark disease, a complex disease caused by scale insects that weaken the trees, followed by the fungus neonectria, which kills the trees.

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