ST. LOUIS – One of the highlights of the autumn season is the leaves changing beautiful shades of golds, oranges, and reds. The timing and quality of these colors are impacted yearly by the weather. Not only the fall weather leading up to it but the summer weather as well.
“A lot of it has to do with just the overall health of the tree and that is always tied to the weather. So a tree that’s been through a lot of heat stress and drought stress isn’t going to have the same energy reserves and the same compounds built up inside of itself to make that really brilliant color,” said Aaron Lynn-Vogel, horticulture answer service coordinator at the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Leaves are full of chlorophyll for most of their lifespan, which keeps them green. That chlorophyll is turned off as trees start to go dormant for the winter.
“They turn off that chlorophyll and as they slowly turn that off, it shows the other pigments that are underneath of it, which just aren’t quite as intense or abundant. And as those slowly suck away those other colors are revealed,” Lynn-Vogel said.
The main driving force for the change is the length of the day. Based on that alone, when is our average peak?
“Typically, around here it’s usually the last week of October or first week of November are typically the best dates and then just the weather that we are talking about either way can push that up or back about a week or two,” Lynn-Vogel said.
On average, summer heat stress and drought would lead to an earlier and less impressive fall color season. This summer we haven’t technically been in a drought, but we have certainly had some difficult stretches of hot weather.
“Our weather really has been feast or famine lately so all of the extreme heat and the stress that we’ve had in those periods is bad for it. It is very good that we’ve had some rain. Hopefully moving forward we’ll have slightly cooler temperatures and a little bit more consistent rain as opposed to the flooding and then horrible heat,” Lynn-Vogel said.
To ensure good color this year we can hope for nice, sunny autumn days so the trees still have plenty of light to make into food and gradually cooling nights.
“You don’t want to have a really quick freeze because this will just damage all of the leaves before they have a chance to draw out that chlorophyll and then they just turn a crummy brown,” Lynn-Vogel said. “And you don’t want it to stay too hot for too long because of the opposite side of that. The leaves just stay green for much longer and you don’t get the same development of those colors as they withdraw the chlorophyll.”
Strong winds and storms can quickly shorten the fall colors.
“Basically all of the leaves are slowly cutting themselves off from the tree. That’s literally what’s happening. So as they slowly have more color and slowly cut themselves off further it takes less wind to blow them off,” he said.
We have so many amazing drives and parks to witness this beauty close to St. Louis. A short trip to St. Charles County provides a wide range of experiences.
“Klondike Park is a wonderful place if you want the vista views of down into the valley with the river view. If you would like to be in a tunnel encased in leaves you can go to Matson Hill with the rolling hills. You’ll be all surrounded by trees and foliage. If you would like to have more of a mixture of the two along the Femme Osage Creek down at the Historical Daniel Boone home that is a wonderful spot in order to see the fall colors as well,” said Abigail Loucks, a Park Ranger with St. Charles County Parks.
After all, getting outside experiencing nature is great for our mental and physical health
“It’s very important for individuals to be connected with nature just so they are able to feel like they are safe and in their own place. So if that’s the hiking trails, if that is just enjoying yourself at the playgrounds or walking around the beach area. We just love that nature can provide you a safe place to feel at home,” said Loucks.