JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – After a wet and sweltering summer, most are breathing a sigh of relief as temperatures cool down and trees begin to change color – a sure sign that fall has arrived. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) encourages people to enjoy fall foliage through camping, driving tours, hiking, or even canoeing or floating. To help, MDC offers weekly online fall color updates from agency foresters all over the state at mdc.mo.gov/fallcolor.
“Our fall color reports not only show users where trees are beginning to turn, but even suggests the best places to see changing leaves,” said MDC Forestry Field Programs Supervisor Russell Hinnah.
Predicting fall color can be difficult, especially with the severe weather Missouri has experienced this past spring and summer.
“Weather patterns this year have been unusual,” explained Hinnah. “We’ve had lots of rain and flooding in spring and early summer, followed by some parts of the state experiencing a dry spell combined with warmer temperatures. That combination may have stressed some trees, resulting in them dropping leaves early.”
Hinnah said chilly nights are key to leaves changing color.
“Sugars produced by photosynthesis are trapped inside leaves by the chilly autumn nights,” he explained. “Those sugars are the building blocks for the rich red, yellow, orange, and purple pigments. Cool nights cause the breakdown of green pigments, allowing the fall colors to show through.”
Missouri trees first begin changing color in the northern part of the state, then move southward across the state. Sassafras, sumac, and Virginia creeper are some of the earliest to change in mid-September. In late September, black gum, bittersweet, and dogwood are turning. The peak of fall color is usually around mid-October.
“Trees such as maples, ashes, oaks, and hickories are at the peak of their fall display by the middle of October,” noted Hinnah. “Normally by the end of the month, colors are fading and leaves are falling.”
WHERE’S THE BEST PLACE?
Missouri’s fall color can be viewed and enjoyed from almost anywhere. For spectacular vistas, choose routes along rivers with views of forested bluffs, and along ridges with sweeping scenes of forested landscapes.
“We encourage the public to visit MDC’s conservation areas or Missouri state parks to enjoy a scenic drive,” said Hinnah.
Fall color isn’t limited to trees. Prairies and roadsides display beautiful shades of gold, purple, olive, and auburn with autumn wildflowers, shrubs, and grasses. In cities and towns, enjoy places with mature trees, such as older neighborhoods, parks, and even cemeteries.
MDC provides its annual fall color update at mdc.mo.gov/fallcolor. The weekly reports include what kinds of trees are turning and suggestions on the best places to view them. The updates run September through November.