Missouri's Season of Splendor

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Published on: Sep. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

Indian summer, with its clear, sunny days and cool, crisp nights, is an almost irresistible lure to those who enjoy the outdoors. Without the bugs and humidity of summer, a hike in the woods becomes a more pleasant pastime. This type of weather also provides the ingredients for Missouri's most spectacular season-fall.

Pity the many people of the world who are not able to witness this changing of the seasons. In the tropics, where wet and dry seasons mark the year, the trees have no color change. Only the temperate hardwood forests give us this annual splash of color.

Picture Mother Nature going about on autumn days with a liberal supply of paint, coloring the leaves of trees to produce the brilliant displays of red, purple, orange and yellow. Every fall we enjoy the beauty of the forest, knowing it is only a passing pleasure. Before long, the leaves will drift to the forest floor to add to the rich carpet there.

Many people suppose Jack Frost is responsible for the color change, but he is not. Some leaves begin to turn colors before we have any frosts. According to a Native American legend, celestial hunters slew the Great Bear in the autumn, and his blood dripping on the forest changed many leaves to red. The fat that splattered out of the kettle as the hunters cooked the meat turned other trees to yellow. Other peoples had legends, but now we know that the changes in colors are the result of chemical processes that take place in the tree as it prepares for winter.

Trying to predict the peak of fall color is difficult. Missouri is blessed with a great variety of trees, shrubs and vines. Their leaves turn at different times and, as a result, Missourians enjoy a fall color season that may last four to six weeks. Sassafras, sumac and Virginia creeper are some of the earliest to change. They begin to show their fall colors by mid-September. By late September, blackgum, bittersweet and dogwood are changing.

The peak of fall color in Missouri is usually mid-October. This is when maples, ashes, oaks and hickories are at the height of their fall display. Normally by late October, the colors have faded and the leaves are beginning to drop from the trees.

This progression of color change starts earliest in north Missouri and moves southward across the state to the Bootheel. Generally, the color change is

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