Discover Nature: Fall Color

Sep 30, 2018

October 4 - October 10

Discover nature this week as you take in Missouri’s colorful fall landscape.

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, the peak of the fall colors is in the middle of October, and because our state’s trees, shrubs and vines turn at different times we enjoy a fall color season that may last four to six weeks.

As you observe the leafy display, think about what’s responsible for painting our state’s trees in the new yellow, red and purple shades. Though the weather holds some responsibility, a chemical change is occurring within each leaf as the trees take in varying amounts of sun.

Chlorophyll and carotenoid pigments are the ultimate responsible parties.

Chlorophyll gives leaves their green color and absorbs energy from the sun to turn water and carbon dioxide into sugars and starches for the tree. Even though green is what you see during the growing season, there also are hidden colors in the leaves called carotenoids. These give yellow and orange colors to carrots, corn and daffodils.

In the fall, shorter days and cooler nights mean less energy for food-making. The chlorophyll starts to break down, the green disappears and the yellow carotenoids can finally be seen in hickory, ash, birch, maple, sycamore, cottonwood and sassafras trees.

The red and purple colors, though, aren't hiding in the leaves. They're newly created in the fall when sugars are made during warm days, then trapped in the leaves on cool nights. The trapped sugars change chemically to appear red and purple.

The more sunshine during the day, the more red color is created. That's why shaded leaves will be less red than those that get lots of sun. If the weather is cloudy and the nights stay warm, there won't be as much vivid red in maple, sweetgum, oak and dogwood trees.

In mid-October, maples, ashes, oaks and hickories are at the height of their fall display. You can go online to to find conservation areas near you that have trails and viewing areas where you can really enjoy this change of season.