Trees lining the road to Lake Kakusha are beginning to turn bright yellow and orange as the peak fall foliage date draws near. The Farmer’s Almanac predicts leaves should be most vibrant anytime between now and Oct. 21. (Reporter photo by Jennifer Sommer)
MENDOTA - Crisp leaves in red, yellow, orange, and browns delicately hang from tree branches waiting for a swift breeze to grab them and swirl them around like a dance to the ground. No doubt, fall is a beautiful time of year.
Illinois’ fall color season lasts for several weeks. Leaves normally start turning the end of September. The Farmer’s Almanac predicts leaves in northern Illinois should be most vibrant Oct. 5-21, as leaves hit their peak colors. Leaves in the southern end of the state will take about a week longer before becoming their most brilliant.
Illinois has more than 250 tree species that contribute to this scenic beauty. Among them are red oak, sugar maple, and flowering dogwood that produce leaves in deep red, orange and bronze shades. Ash, birch, cottonwood, and hickory leaves turn bright orange and yellow.
But weather is the biggest factor on color and how vibrant leaves will be each fall. Healthy trees equal colorful leaves. Too much rain, cloud cover, and heat in August means a duller fall. Bright sunny skies in late summer and early September tend to produce more red and orange shades while cloudy days lead to more gold and yellow tints.
Ample rainfall is also very important to producing healthy trees with many pigments in the leaves. Drought can cause leaves to drop before they change colors and colder weather can cause leaves to die first.
But with the right conditions, we are witness to a striking display of nature.
The bright leaves are not just for our enjoyment, though. Researchers have discovered that the changing colors on deciduous trees, those that lose their leaves in the fall and grow new ones each spring, play a key role in protecting the tree for regrowth.
For example, red pigment, called anthocyanin, acts as a sunscreen to leaves as late season nutrients are transferred from the leaves back to the tree’s twigs and branches. It also helps to deter insects and pests that lay eggs in the fall.
Whatever the reason, as native trees are beginning to hit their peak hues now is the time to plan a fall hike or scenic drive to enjoy this vivid splash of color. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources offers a complete list of state parks and recreation areas on their website at www.dnr.illinois.gov. The Illinois Office of Tourism has information on scenic fall drives throughout the state at www.enjoyillinois.com.