Ozark Outdoors

MDC offers online weekly guide to best fall foliage

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Picture of fall foliage along Arkansas 7.

Picture of fall foliage along Arkansas Highway 7. As known Arkansas Scenic 7 Byway), this winding road is the longest state highway, from the Louisiana state line north to Bull Shoals Lake at Diamond City near the Missouri state line.

As the heat of summer fades to the cool weather of fall, trees and shrubs around the Show-Me State transform from leaves of green to a fall-foliage color palette of golds, reds, oranges, and purples. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) encourages people to discover nature through fall-color adventures.

MDC offers weekly online fall color updates from department foresters statewide. The updates include the species of trees that are turning and recommendations for where to see them. The online updates are at nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/fall-colors.

“People can travel anywhere in Missouri and find a variety of trees that show off a fantastic array of color in the fall,” says MDC Resource Forester Cory Gregg.

Leaves turn colors when two things happen

“First, sugars produced by photosynthesis are trapped inside leaves by chilly – but not freezing  – autumn nights,” Gregg explains. “Those sugars are the building blocks for red, yellow, orange, and purple pigments. Cool nights simultaneously cause the breakdown of green pigments, allowing these other colors to show through.”

A wide variety of trees around the state means Missourians have a fall-color season that can last four to six weeks. Sassafras, sumac, and Virginia creeper are some of the earliest foliage to change, beginning in mid-September. By late September, black gum, bittersweet, and dogwoods are turning.

The color change starts earliest in northern Missouri and moves southward across the state. The peak of fall color in Missouri is usually around mid-October. This is when maples, ashes, oaks, and hickories are at the height of their fall display. Normally by late October, the colors are fading and the leaves start to drop from the trees.

“It’s still early in the season and we haven’t seen much of a change,” said MDC Community Forester Mark Grueber. “As we move more into fall, we hope for warm sunny days and cool nights to provide us with the best color display.”

For spectacular vistas, Grueber recommends routes along rivers with views of forested bluffs, and along ridges with sweeping scenes of forested landscapes. On a smaller scale, find fall color through drives on back roads, hikes, or float trips under a colorful forest canopy. Conservation areas and state parks are also great places to visit for fall color.

“Even treeless areas, such as prairies and roadsides, display beautiful shades of gold, purple, olive, and auburn with autumn wildflowers, shrubs, and grasses,” Grueber said. “In cities and towns, enjoy places with mature trees, such as older neighborhoods, parks, and even cemeteries.”

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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