"They've turned color every year," said Hayes, urban forester for Missouri Department of Conservation's Southeast Region. "Some years trees are more vibrant than others. It's like weather forecasting."
As of Oct. 5 elms, poplars, sycamores, maples and a few other bottomland species are showing a shade of yellow in Southeast Missouri, the Conservation Department reports. Most other species are remaining green, except on dry slopes, which suffered from low rainfall. In this area, trees are showing some brown color. Other upland species (sugar maples, hickories and gums) are turning light orange and red. Sumacs, sweet gums and dogwoods are red.
"In our part of the state, we've had more rain. Our trees should be healthier this year. Of course we always have exceptions and parts where soil is thin.
"Right now you can drive around and see some nice color. Some are green and some brown. And not all species of trees show a lot of color," Hayes said.
Justine Gartner, forestry field programs supervisor for the state Department of Conservation, said the most beautiful fall foliage this year in Missouri will be in the northeastern and southeastern parts of the state where there were reasonable amounts of moisture this summer.
This summer's drought has left its mark on central and southwest Missouri because trees affected by the drought won't color as much.
Genetic variability in trees also plays a role in leaf color, Hayes said. For example, seed varieties from Maine will grow differently in Missouri than varieties from California.
Leaf color in Missouri generally peaks around mid October, when shorter days trigger the change in pigmentation. "Oct. 21 or the week either side of that is when we will see peak color," Hayes said.
As for the best places to find fall color, Hayes said beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
"Any place where there are trees," Hayes said. "The more trees the better."
In north Scott County, between Morley and Benton and Chaffee and Oran, the number of species jumps to 100, Hayes said.
"The hills have an advantage over the bottom land. The more species, the more variety, and when you have more variety, the odds are you will have more color," Hayes said.
The Bootheel is comprised of 5 percent trees so the opportunity to see lots of color may not be as high, Hayes said. However, Big Oak Tree State Park in East Prairie, Donaldson Point in New Madrid County or Crowley Ridge in Stoddard County are local places to see color.
Hayes recommended the following trails for good views: drive from Campbell to Dexter and Bloomfield or from Benton to Commerce and Commerce to Scott City, then wind through to Chaffee.
Even driving in town might offer an opportunity to see some fall foliage, Hayes said.
"I made a visit to Sikeston last week, and I was amazed at how many species of trees there are in town."
For farther journeys, Hayes recommended routes through Cape's Trail of Tears State Park on Highway 77 or along Highway 3 in southern Illinois.
Meanwhile, as photosynthesis continues to slow down, the chlorophyll breaks down, which is why the leaves start showing other colors, Hayes said.
Bright sunny days with highs in the 50s and 60s followed by cool nights with lows in the 40s favor the development of brilliant colors. Freezing temperatures and cloudy skies will shorten the duration of the color, Hayes said.
"The weather that makes great color is extended fall sunny days and cool nights," Hayes said.
For fall color updates as the season progresses, visit www.missouriconservation.org/nathis/seas....