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Monday, Aug. 29, 2016

Drought may affect fall color

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Vera Long works in a flower bed Wednesday afternoon.
SIKESTON -- Today may mark the first day of fall, but don't expect it to look like the new season just yet.

Rick Speer, assistant manager at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge in Puxico, noted, like the rest of the area, the leaves really haven't started to change colors yet.

"There are a few of the trees that are starting to change and some that are getting ready to change," Speer said.

Sumac, sassafras and dogwood are the first trees to start turning a reddish color, Speer said. They're the first ones to change while everything else is still green, he added. Typically around Oct. 1 to mid-October is peak time to see the fall colors, he said.

"When they change colors, there's a lot of diversity and the different species of trees will have different colorations," Speer noted.

At Big Oak Tree State Park in East Prairie, visitors can see the fall colors typically from mid- to the latter part of October, said Liz Higgerson with the Park.

According to Missouri Department of Conservation foresters, currently in the Southeast region, some sumac is starting to turn red, and the top leaves in some sugar maple and elm are turning yellow -- but that could be a result of the summer drought.

Forestry Division Administrator Bob Krepps said the return of rains in August, following a two-month drought, prevented a fall color flop.

However, foresters around the state say many trees already are brown or leafless.

"We're probably going to have an average year overall," Krepps said. "It won't be the worst or the best, but there will be color."

A hot dry spell that lasted through most of June and July caused some trees to lose their leaves. Although the majority of trees kept their leaves, the drought stress could make them more apt to early leaf drop, Krepps said. Krepps said rain that fell in August came in time to save many drought-

stressed trees. He said dogwoods seemed to be particularly hard-hit by the drought. Their leaves withered in July's dry heat, and some were completely brown by the end of the month.

But with the return of rain, many of the affected trees sprouted new greenery, which could make the difference between death and survival, Krepps said.

"If the drought had lasted another month, we would have seen much more tree mortality than we will now. The rain last month was a life-saver for a lot of trees," Krepps said.

The drought stress can also affect leaf color, and weather conditions in the next few weeks will be critical to determining the quality and duration of this year's display, according to Krepps.

Warm, sunny days and cool nights are ideal for the development of brilliant foliage. Normally what happens is nighttime lows in the 50s and 60s cause leaves to stop producing green pigment. Sugars stored in leaves undergo chemical changes at the same time, creating shades of orange, red and purple.

But just one kink in the weather can change everything. For example, unseasonably warm weather in September and early October can allow green pigments to persist, masking other colors. Cloudy weather causes trees to produce less sugar, and rainy weather helps flush existing sugar out of leaves and into tree roots.

A hard freeze at the wrong time can cause leaves to drop early. Heavy rainfall or strong winds can strip leaves from trees, cutting autumn splendor short. As a general rule, fall colors are likely to be better in river bottoms and along other water courses, Krepps said. Trees in dry, upland locations are less likely to turn vibrant colors this year.

"Generally, you just have to wait and see how it transpires each year," said Speer about the fall color at Mingo. "Each year is a little different. You can predict it, but you don't know until it happens."