Welcome fall: Cooler, longer nights create gradual change in region’s leaves


KIRKWOOD, Mo. – Fall is now officially here. While you can find mums, gourds, and pumpkin-flavored everything, you’ll have to wait a bit for our leaves to change. Over the coming weeks, trees will all be changing colors and the Missouri Department of Conservation will be tracking it for you.

Shorter days and cooler temperatures are a recipe for leaves to change colors, says Danny Moncheski, a community forester with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

“The less daylight we have kind of starts to signal the trees to have a chemical reaction and stop making chlorophyll, the green stuff that makes leaves green,” Moncheski said. “As they stop, it allows all the other compounds in the leaves to shine bright. That’s your reds, oranges, and yellows.”

Leaves on trees and shrubs may turn at different times. Understory trees are some of the earliest to change.

“So, your dogwoods, sassafras would be one, your sumacs. The sorts of trees you see along the roadside. Redbud trees will start to turn a little earlier,” Moncheski said.

But the peak of fall color in Missouri is usually mid to late October, when maples, oaks, and hickories are on full display. Colors start to change first in northern Missouri and then spread southward.

“We’ll give an update. ‘Hey, head down Highway 94, the whole winery drive out to Augusta. Or maybe up 61. Or down south along 55.’ And check out these spots. We even threw in a few conservation areas and other sites of interest,” Moncheski said.

Some of the best places to find gorgeous fall colors are along forested river bluffs or in older neighborhoods and cemeteries, but be wary of trees changing color too quickly.

“With the moist spring and a cooler, wet summer, pin oak trees, that’s a lot of folks’ yard trees. If it’s yellow in August and September, then it’s probably more of a health issue. Some things like hickory and walnut, we’ll see them turn early and sometimes lose their leaves before anything else starts to turn color. That’s typically a time when you want to call an arborist,” Moncheski said.

If you want to be sure you will see great colors when you drive, then head to the Missouri Department of Conservation website. There you will find a great blog that details the changing colors in eight different Missouri regions.

The Illinois Department Of Natural Resources also offers a Fall Color report, with the Prairie State broken down into four regions. They just started updating it on Tuesday.

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