How Do Fall Colors Come to Be?

Blog Category
Discover Nature Notes
Published Display Date
Oct 20, 2014

Look out your window. See that in the trees? The colors of autumn are dominating the Missouri landscape.

Watching a sea of green trees transform to the reds, greens, oranges and yellows of autumn seems like magic. But it’s not  hocus-pocus in the woods. The trees are just getting ready for winter.

Shedding leaves allows trees to conserve water during the dry months of winter. And should the tender leaves remain, they would freeze. So most of our trees deal with winter weather by shedding their leaves in fall and growing new ones again in spring.

As autumn days get shorter, other colors replace the greens in tree leaves. Many of the leaf’s chemicals and nutrients move into the tree trunk. The veins that carry the tree’s food in and out of the leaf gradually close, and the base of each leaf is sealed. Chlorophyll is the pigment that makes the greens appear. The green leaf begins to fade when the sealed veins don’t allow the leaf to replace its chlorophyll. Then the yellow, orange and brown pigments already in the leaves shine through.

Leaves of shrubs and trees turn color in October and are usually shed by November. If fall days are warm and sunny with cool nights, the colors will be at their brightest. If heavy frosts persist, they’ll be dull and fade quickly.

Download the Missouri Department of Conservation’s mobile app “MO Fall Colors,” which provides users with weekly fall color reports and scenes from around the state, complete with GPS navigation. You can even upload your own fall color photos.

How You Can Best Enjoy the Changing Colors

  • For spectacular vistas, choose routes along rivers with views of forested bluffs, and along ridges with sweeping scenes of forested landscapes.
  • On a smaller scale, drive on back roads, hike, or take a float trip under a colorful forest canopy on a clear, blue-sky day. It’s like having acres of shining stained glass above.
  • Even treeless areas, such as prairies and roadsides, display beautiful shades of gold, purple, olive, and auburn with autumn wildflowers, shrubs, and curing, rustling grasses
  • If you can’t get out of town, enjoy places with mature trees, such as older neighborhoods, parks, and even cemeteries.

Live in the bootheel, or near Kansas City or St. Louis? Find out how you can take in Missouri’s fall colors in each of its regions by checking out the MDC Field Guide.

Enjoy a fall adventure in the Ozarks at Twin Pines, Peck Ranch, Alley Springs and others. See and hear wild elk, waterfalls, and springs along the way.

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