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Not a gardening question per-se, but I believe this is the best exchange for it.

It had been my observation here in the northern temperate zone that trees growing in low-lying, wet areas change to autumnal colors earlier than nearby woods with better drainage. I have observed the same for pond side trees that aren’t in the midst of a boggy area.

First question: Is this observation correct? (i.e., not an example of confirmation bias) and assuming it is...

Second question: Why does this happen?

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  • In my area, mostly because the upland trees tend to be different species, many of which are oaks and similar unspectacular fall foliage trees, and the acid-loving red maples and such go down in the valleys where the soil is more acid (and in my area swampy), making it more colorful down there.
    – J. Musser
    Sep 7, 2014 at 2:02

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Yes, many trees in wetland areas - Maples like Red Maple and Silver Maple as well as Black Gum trees - often change earlier than other areas. Red Maples in particular can turn rather early.

Now, I'm not a tree expert but I would say that there isn't a causal relationship here - i.e., the trees turn early because they are in the wetlands - but rather that some of the trees that do well around the wetlands (Red Maples, sometimes called "Swamp Maples" are chief here) happen to turn color earlier than others. Those Maples will grow just as well atop my hill here on the farm and they change early here too.

Sumac is another wetland tree that turns a beautiful reddish orange early. It will also change early away from the wetlands.

Other wetlands trees - Tupelo, for instance, doesn't turn or drop its leaves nearly as early as the Red Maple. Different tree species, same environment.

Another reason that trees can change color is due to stress. I had a few trees here on the farm turn earlier than normal a few years ago due to extreme weather. It probably doesn't have anything to do with most of those trees though. It might, but probably not. Usually the stress is a yearly thing. Trees that won't grow well in swampy/wet areas don't, well, grow well there.

Anyhow, that's my two cents on it. Again, I'm no tree expert. I do kayak a lot on lakes and expect to see the Maples changing earlier there than some of the other trees - Oaks and such.

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  • You must have a different silver maple, where I live, they sometimes get yellowish...
    – J. Musser
    Sep 7, 2014 at 2:06
  • I agree, it is a special difference because of varying climate/environment.
    – J. Musser
    Sep 7, 2014 at 2:07
  • I strongly disagree here. In a grove of red maples, half with their roots mostly saturated. That half will change their leaves over a month earlier. I’m not sure why, but it’s something I have personally observed for decades.
    – W.Lyman
    Aug 27, 2023 at 16:13

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