Fancy some leaf-peeping?

By Dúlra

TODAY, we are going to learn a new word. And once you know it, it won’t be long before you hear it mentioned on TV or read it in the press.

‘Leaf-peeping’ is a multi-million dollar industry in the US. It describes people who travel to see – wait for it – trees in the autumn.

We take our countryside for granted in Ireland. People might come here to see the Glens or the wilds of Donegal, but we can’t imagine that anyone would travel great distances to admire our trees. And to fork out a fortune into the bargain.

In the United States, leaf-peeping the fastest growing tourism sector. In the state of Vermont, leaf-peeping tourists spend $375 million every autumn. Massachusetts gets 2.5 million tourists every October, with each family spending an average of $1,000 on petrol, food and accommodation.

All so they can see a trees in varying shades of brown.

A country’s climate governs how much autumn browning takes place. Thankfully, we enjoy a golden autumn on the scale of New England on the American eastern seaboard. But as yet, we’re not on the tourist map.

The green of leaves is caused by the pigment chlorophyll, and when it degrades as the tree goes to sleep for the winter, carotenoids which also exist in the leaves become more visible. These range in colour from yellow and brown to orange. Other pigments, anthocyanins, make up the reds and purples.

In hot countries, anthocyanins exist in just 10% of trees, but in New England – and Ireland – it rises to to 70%.

Incredibly, these red leaves serve a purpose. They are a warning to insects not to use the tree as a host in winter.

Creating red leaves takes considerable effort for a tree to produce, and so insects know that as a warning colour, it is usually honest rather than a bluff. Insects have learned through experience to believe it as a warning sign and so use other trees to hibernate. It seems these leaf colours are nearly impossible to fake.

Dúlra’s never been to New England in the ‘fall’, but he can’t imagine it’s any more stunning than our own Colin Glen.

Take a trip along Hannahstown Hill in the next few weeks, and glance sidewards into the more remote part of the upper glen. It will be like looking at a colour wheel.  It’s truly magical.

Would anyone pay to see it? Why not? In America, leaf-peeping has become a godsend to businesses who are now able to rely a last tourism boost when summer ends.

So this autumn, keep your eyes open to the wonders of our autumn. And keep your ears open for the first mention of the ‘leaf-peepers’.

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