Did you know that the leaves of some hickories, oaks and other Missouri trees don’t change color? That’s kind of a trick question. As the days grow shorter and the warm days give way to cool, crisp nights, the green cells in the leaves of the tree fade away, allowing other colors to show through. These other colors are always present, but for most of the year the green just covers them up. They belong to a group of chemical pigments called carotenoids, which are the ones that make carrots orange and corn yellow. The reds and purples are a true change in color. During the cool evenings, the sugars manufactured by the leaf during the day are converted to anthocyanins.
Predicting the changing colors is difficult. The best colors happen when the trees have had lots of rain during the summer and the days start getting noticeably shorter. When the days are warm and the nights are cool, the stage is set. This generally happens around mid-October.
Taking a drive to see the fall colors is a great way to spend a bit of time with family and friends. Why not learn about the forests of the Ozarks at the same time? Pick up a copy of the "50 Common Trees" and the "Missouri Oaks and Hickories" publications free from the Missouri Department of Conservation to help identify the trees you see. A driving tour has been developed for Rocky Creek Conservation Area that takes you on the back roads of Shannon County and showcases a variety of forest-management techniques. These demonstration areas can help landowners make choices on management for their own property.
Pick up a map or publications, download the driving tour or just get in the car. Get outside and enjoy the Ozarks this fall in all its finery!