Kansas City, Mo. – Virginia creeper vines are scarlet in the treetops. Yellow is appearing in leaves on hackberry and pawpaw trees. Peak fall color is on the way, and the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) urges people to head outdoors and enjoy autumn’s sensory pleasures.
Shorter daylight hours, along with sunny days and cool nights, triggers fall color in trees that shed their leaves each autumn. All three factors are currently producing bright color changes in Western Missouri. Shorter days reduce photosynthesis, causing green chlorophyll in leaves to break down and allowing yellow pigments to appear more visible. Leaves in trees such as maples and oaks produce sugars on sunny days that get trapped in the leaves when cool nights slow leaf processes. That prompts reds and purples to appear.
Nature has variety. An area receiving plentiful rain through summer may have more vibrant color than a dry or drought-stricken area, but not always. Too much moisture can trigger leaf diseases, too. The Kansas City area had a dry June, a wet July, then a dry September. Some trees dropped leaves early due to dry conditions. Yet plenty of trees still have healthy leaves turning colors or staying green until peak color time in mid- to late-October. Some trees wait till early November to get showy, depending on weather.
A drive on country roads with forests or open woodlands is a good option for seeing color. Bluff areas with varied tree species are often colorful, such as the Missouri River bluffs. Many MDC conservation areas have service roads or marked hiking trails open for an autumn stroll. Color is found in cities, too. Often older residential neighborhoods have large trees that produce spectacular color.
Another tip, besides looking up at trees, is to remember to look down at freshly fallen leaves. During peak color times, leaves hold their color for a few days after they drop. Look downward at trails and sidewalks as you hike, especially after rain moistens leaves. If a variety of trees are present, a vibrant collage of colors and leaf shapes will be underfoot. Listen to sounds, too. The wind-rustled leaves sound urgently raspy in autumn. A pleasant, musty smell of fallen leaves in decay signals that fungi and bacteria are producing nutrients for next year.
MDC provides updated reports on the progress of fall color changes throughout Missouri, including for the Kansas City and northwest regions, visit https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Z4E.
To find a MDC conservation area near you for a colorful hike or drive, in rural or urban areas, visit https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/places.