Experts predict an unusually dry and early spring could see some parts of the country experience a fake autumn in addition to the real one which normally arrives in late September or early October.
Tracking the onset of the genuine autumn will be made more difficult as leaves take on the traditional shades of amber earlier to save water -- a trick which experts nickname “fool’s gold”.
Although this pattern is believed to have occurred locally before, the Woodland Trust Scotland said it was not aware of a dry spring being followed by such a wet summer across most of Scotland, and are keen to see what happens now that the darker nights are beckoning.
Andrew Fairbairn, of Woodland Trust Scotland, said: “Autumn gold is triggered by fading sunlight and cold temperatures. The leaves lose the chlorophyll that makes them green, producing spectacular yellow and red displays of autumn colour.
“Fool’s autumn gold is different. It’s the trees still struggling to recover from a dry spring. They wilt and drop their leaves early to save water. So this year we might have two separate events that look like autumn -- the real one and the fake.”
It was only a few months ago that the foliage on many of Scotland’s trees turned brown and dropped to the ground, leaving them looking as bare as in late autumn.
Horse chestnut, birch and rowan trees in the seaside towns of Kilbirnie, Largs and Skelmorlie were all affected by the early summer rain and high winds, which scorched many of the trees in May and into June. At the time Forestry Commission Scotland said it was caused by May’s exceptionally strong winds combined with the salt-laden sea air.
Now the Woodland Trust is warning that despite above average rainfall during June, July and August -- especially in eastern Scotland -- the extremely dry spring has resulted in an overall water deficit, causing many trees to show early autumnal colouring and leaf fall.
Data recorded by the trust over the past decade suggests trees across Scotland will, on average, show the first signs of autumn colour during late September, with so-called “full tinting” appearing in mid to late October.
However, the trust is asking the public to use its VisitWoods website to help them monitor and record the dates for colour changes in their nearby woodlands in a bid to help them understand how climate may be impacting on the seasons.
Professor Tim Sparks, nature advisor to the Woodland Trust said: “Autumn is the best season to get out and make the most of our trees and woods: the beautiful reds, browns and golds are an awe-inspiring sight. We want the public to help us record the changing seasons, which informs scientists about the effects of climate change on native flora and fauna.”
Leaves falling early should not have a significant impact on wildlife -- except benefiting insects and other creatures which feed off woodland floor detritus -- but the trust said water shortages in spring could result in slower tree growth.
A dry spring is also more likely to result in early fruiting, which benefits birds and mammals trying to fatten themselves up during cold weather, but can also mean they run down their fat stores before the worst of the weather is over.