Nature Boost Podcast: Missouri's Fall Color 2021
[Music playing, animal sounds.]
>> Hey there and welcome back! I am Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation; really happy you are joining us today for a fun discussion on fall color.
I am like every other midwestern girl where fall is my favorite season. Even though in Missouri, it really doesn't start getting cool until we hit October, it seems like. But I don't care! I will still drink my pumpkin spice latte and wear my sweaters as soon as August ends. I don't have any shame about it.
With that being said, what makes the fall season so awesome is the changing of the leaves. Something everybody loves to see those rich oranges, and yellows, and reds that really make us excited for the season.
Here to tell us more about fall color today and how it happens is MDC Community Forester Ann Koenig. Ann, I appreciate you making the time to talk to me today.
>> Hi, I love to be here. Thank you.
>> Glad to hear it! Okay! So first let's get into how those leaves change color. Tell us about what that process is like.
>> I am guessing everyone already knows the leaves are green so there is chlorophyll in the leaves, which is green. That starts to disintegrate with age and as the days get cooler. Actually, that green is prolific throughout the leaf but as it disintegrates, other colors are in the leaf, but they are hidden, you can't see it through all the green pigmentation. So as that green disintegrates, then the reds and the yellows start to show. And on those bright sunny days, and cool nights, not cool enough to freeze, all those rich reds and yellow sugars in the leaf (it is actually sugars in the leaf) cannot get out of the leaf because it is cool, and they are trapped up in there. You get these days after day nice and bright reds and yellows and oranges in the leaf until it freezes. Once it freezes, those leaves die and fall off.
>> Okay. So really the weather plays a big role in the changing.
>> A great big role. Yeah. If you have cloudy days, those bright leaves don't really become as bright, and if you have an early freeze then the leaves tend to go brown and fall off early. If it is very dry, then the leaves will kind of dry up and fall off before they get a chance to change the bright fall colors. It is really weather dependent.
>> And we are recording this right now the last week of September. There was like one week where we had some awesome fall weather. I think there were highs in like the mid-70s and it felt so great. But now we are kind of back to almost summer temperatures. So, we are not quite there yet.
>> As I was driving here, I think they said it is normally 74 degrees as a high today and it's 93 degrees. So, we are having a little bit of an extension of summer, which is alright with me. But yes, I actually start thinking about football.
>> Yeah, there you go!
>> And pumpkin spice!
>> There you go, you see everybody. . . .
>> And sweaters and everything else.
>> Yeah, we are ready for it! But yeah, that is the thing living in Missouri, it teases you a little bit.
Alright, so, do all of Missouri's trees change color at the same time?
Is there kind of like a range?
>> It is a continuum. Yeah. You feel like it is all at the same time because you don't really start noticing for a while. But the first things to change . . . actually it is very strange. It still surprises me when I see certain trees that start to lose their leaves. Buckeyes lose their leaves, they started losing their leaves like maybe a month and a half ago. They've almost lost their leaves entirely.
Then you will see some vines like poison ivy and Virginia creeper, you will see a red streak going up a bluff and think . . . what is that? Those are vines that start to go. Dogwoods start to turn early.
But the big trees in our woods like the maples are the ones that usually are the most spectacular sugar maples. Those happen about the third week of October. It is a continuum. Different species of trees change colors at different times and different have different colors they tend to turn, and some are fairly muted. Some are very bright.
>> Yeah! So, depending on where you live in Missouri, since again it is dependent on location, but when would be a good time to see the fall foliage? We are kind of getting into October or so.
>> October 21st at noon.
>> Is when it is all going to go down!
>> The exact time! Everybody get ready for it.
>> Third week in October. I usually start thinking, "Surely it is mid-October, surely it will start." Part of me thinks "Oh, it is not happening there is something wrong," but third week of October. Just wait one more week and then you will see usually that peak fall color is usually the last three quarters of October.
>> Okay, so we don't have much to wait.
>> Yeah! It is happening.
>> Then usually by November it's done, would you say?
>> By then we have hit some freezing cold nights and some freezing temperatures, and the leaves freeze and then it starts the process of them falling off.
>> Gotcha. So, we were talking earlier it is not just with trees, it is also with different types of shrubs and even wildflowers are pretty showy this time of year too?
>> Yeah, and because trees and other plants are exposed to sunlight have those brighter colors. Often times, as I was saying, if you look at bluffs that is where you will see some of your prettiest views where the trees are completely exposed on the south side. You will see vines climbing up them that are just bright red early. Sumac is another shrub that you will notice turning early.
>> Oh, oh yeah! For those who may not know, I wanted to mention MDC produces a fall color forecast every year. This is run by our foresters, and our experts. Tell us a little bit about that. This is a webpage on our MDC site.
>> Yes. So, you can get information on what is turning, when can you predict fall color, and then where might be good to go and take a drive, or a run, or a float in your area and see nice fall colors. So not only what is turning and when but where do you go to see those primo spots.
>> I was looking at it this morning and what I love about it is that it’s almost kind of like having your own personal fall colors tour guide. It's great because it is broken up into sections whether you are in central Missouri like we are, or if you are in the northwest part of the state or the southeast. There are foresters in each of those regions that are updating it. I think it is great that they give you, "Oh, hey, Eagle Bluffs is a great place to see it right now, this conservation area, or this state park," you know.
>> You are making our job seem pretty darn serious, but you are absolutely right. In fact, this morning there were probably three or four emails of different foresters in the region saying, "This is what I am seeing on fall colors today or this week!" We are all collaborating. And "Oh yeah, I did notice that!" so we get nice well-rounded information. I work in central Missouri, so fifteen counties and it can be kind of different. So, what is going on at the lake, and what is going on more at Marshall. So yes, we are busy at work talking about fall colors and getting you all your fall color reports.
>> Let me ask you. Where is your favorite spot to enjoy fall color?
>> Well, the Missouri River if you can get out. I feel like all of our rivers we think of them in the summer and we also know there is high traffic time in the summer weekends. But fall is really the best kept secret on all our rivers. Of course, I live next to Missouri River which you might not think about floating, but it is wonderful to get out there and see fall color and see the trees.
Then driving wise, you really can't beat it from Columbia to Jeff City. It is such an easy drive and seeing all the bluffs and then to really pick it up, when you get to Jeff City hit Highway 94 and go toward Hermann. You are on the north side of the river and all those bluffs along there is just gorgeous.
>> Yeah, and it has been on my list. I have plans to make it happen this year, but I've always heard that Peck Ranch. It is a drive, you know, if you are not in that area but I've always wanted to go down there and see it in the fall and maybe even get a look at some elk down there too.
>> Oh, that would be a nice combo.
>> Yeah, uh-huh!
>> I think of sugar maples being just primo. Those trees are in northern Missouri also so you could think about Union Ridge. That is another gigantic conservation area.
>> Oh! Okay.
>> You can see some beautiful fall color up there.
>> Now sugar maples - those get kind of orange. Okay.
>> Glad you asked. So, there are two kind of general maples. There is the hard maple, also called sugar maple. They are the ones that grow really slowly, and you might see them along streets, or they are sometimes planted in cemeteries. They tend to grow in woods that have not been cut in a long time. So fairly mature woods will have sugar maples.
Silver maples were grown at farmsteads a lot because they grow fast. So, they were a good tree if you wanted some shade in your lifetime. They don't have good fall color. They grow very fast, and they grow along rivers and streams, but their leaves just kind of disintegrate.
>> Oh, okay.
>> Sugar maples are the ones that have those bright reds and oranges and also, you can make maple syrup from them. Here in Missouri!
>> I am glad that you said that. I actually have an episode coming out. It is coming out in January, so Nature Boost listeners stay tuned for that. Where I interviewed Amy Wilkinson. She is at Rockwoods Reservation and she taught me about sugar mapling.
>> Oh good!
>> Yeah, so that episode is coming out in January. A very interesting process.
And is there anything else you would like to add as far as fall color goes?
>> Okay, not that I am obsessed with maple trees but one good thing. I don't think maple trees are the easiest to identify except for in the fall. So, they have the sugar maple leaf looks like the leaf on the Canada flag. A lot of people know what that looks like.
If you can identify the tree in the fall when it is in leaf and put something on it then come late January/early February if that is your tree and you can tap it. It may be harder to identify them, but you already have it flagged and you will know what tree that is. Just a little tip to maybe flag a tree in the fall while the leaves are still on, and that way you know what it is, and you won't feel like a fool tapping an . . . I don't know, whatever, other tree.
>> Well, and there are other trees you can tap.
>> You can.
>> Is it like black walnut, is that what I am thinking of? Can you tap black walnut trees?
>> Okay, I saw research that said in a blind taste test you can tell the difference and I tapped our maple tree in our yard and our walnuts.
>> There was a big difference?
>> Uh, I will just say there was a difference.
>> That's all you need to say - that face.
>> Well, that's good to know. Absolutely that is a good tip if you are interested in tapping sugar maples.
Actually, I have one last question to ask you. I saw this online a few years ago and I want your opinion as an expert on this.
So, I heard that with the changing of the leaves it is almost kind of like fruit ripening. Would you say that? To where if you look at a banana, a banana starts out like green but then as it finally ripens it goes to yellow. Is it like our leaves are ripening and that is their actual color? Then they usually turn brown and then they fall off.
>> Not at all? Okay!
I should have known. I read it on the internet. Not everything you read is true.
>> I like that concept, but I think with fruit it tends to stay green to remain hidden and more camouflaged while it is not ripe. Then once the seeds are ripe, evolutionarily they are going to want an animal to come and take that fruit so they can deposit the seeds somewhere. They are going to go showy when they are ready.
>> I see!
>> They do not want to be showy before that seed is ready. If an animal came and said, "Oh, okay there is a mango" and took the fruit and ate the fruit. The point of fruit is generally speaking is that it has a fruit inside and that attracts an animal to eat it which then it walks away and deposits it somewhere else.
Where in the case of a leaf, it is just a natural process that happens that is not like in it is in the plants interests necessarily to have that going on. It is just pigments that are remain, and as one is disintegrating the other still hangs in there for a little while.
>> That actually makes a lot more sense. I had read that, and I was like, "Oh, that's kind of cool! It is like their actual color." But no.
>> It is an interesting process but generally speaking the fruits turn color at the point that their seeds are ripe.
>> Okay. Gotcha. Well thank you for explaining that to me.
>> You are welcome. I like to be able to say NO! once in a while.
>> Well you know, you got to get the right information out there. Thank you so much. I am really excited. We are very close to the leaves changing. It is going to be a wonderful season in Missouri. So, thank you for all of the wonderful information.
>> Thank you!
>> Alright! Ann Koenig, one of MDC's awesome community foresters, thank you for your time. If you would like more information on Missouri's changing leaves and to view MDC's Fall Color Forecast log on to missouriconservation.org/fallcolor. Be sure to tune into Nature Boost episodes on every third Thursday of the month a new episode will come out.
If you have any suggestions on topics that you would like us to cover on Nature Boost, be sure to give us a topic suggestion. You can do that at missouriconservation.org/natureboost.
I am Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation urging you to get out this season and to get your daily dose of the outdoors.