Preview of 2015 fall tree color season

Autumn color on Missouri River bluffs near Hartsburg Access with farmland.

Autumn color on Missouri River bluffs near Hartsburg Access with farmland. Courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation.

The Missouri Department of Conservation says shorter days and cooler nights are setting the stage for great fall tree colors in October.

“As of mid-September, 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 into fall, we’ll hope for warm sunny days and cool nights to provide us with the best color display.”

MDC Resource Forester Cory Gregg explained that leaves turn colors when two things happen.

“First, sugars produced by photosynthesis are trapped inside leaves by chilly – but not freezing – autumn nights,” he said. “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.”

The variety of trees means Missourians enjoy a fall color season that can last four to six weeks. Sassafras, sumac, and the 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.

 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, drive on back roads, hike, or take a float trip under a colorful forest canopy on a clear, blue-sky day. Conservation areas and state parks are 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.”

 MDC offers weekly fall color updates provided by foresters from all over the state through November. The updates include what species of trees are turning and recommendations for where to see them. The easiest way to get those updates is with MDC’s free mobile app, MO Fall Colors. It provides fall-color scenes from around the state, complete with GPS navigation information. Users can even add their own fall-color photos and share them with Facebook friends and others. The app is active during fall-color changes beginning now through November.

Download MO Fall Colors for Android and Apple devices at

Fall color updates are also available on the MDC website at

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