GALLIA COUNTY — It is a show of color that only lasts during a brief period each year and, along with Friday night football, fall turkey season and trick or treating, the brilliant fall colors that adorn the area’s trees each year is the one of the best reasons to get outdoors each autumn.
According to Casey Burdick, Fall Color Forester for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the array of colors that are casting shades of gold and deep reds across Ohio are the perfect backdrop for enjoying the cooler weather prior to the onset of winter.
“It’s a great time of year because it has finally cooled off. Families really enjoy getting out and going for walks and driving through the more rural areas where you can see the woodlands changing,” she said. “So, this time of year is so nice because it is a break between the hot and, potentially, the cold weather to come. It’s an ideal time to get out.”
So, what causes this color change each year?
Thinking back to grade school science lessons: The leaves of a tree serve as areas where the food for the plant is manufactured. This process takes place within tiny cells containing chlorophyll, a chemical that gives a leaf its green color. Chlorophyll absorbs energy from sunlight — energy that is then used to transform carbon dioxide and water into sugars and starch.
Orange and yellow pigments that give such brilliance to the woodlands for a few brief weeks each autumn are always present within tree leaves, but are only masked by the prevalence of the green chlorophyll during the summer months.
As the nights grow longer, the length of daylight wanes and the cooler weather prevails each fall, the leaves stop the food manufacturing process, the chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears and the yellow and orange colors become visible.
According to Burdick, the color of the leaves does depend upon the tree species, but the prevalence of deep reds and purples among the colors of fall are dependent upon the weather leading up to the fall color change.
“Some trees can only turn yellow or orange, and then the reds and purples are actually brought on by having really sunny days in September and October,” Burdick said. “Tree species such as Black Walnut, Yellow Poplar, Green Ash — they are only capable of turning yellow or kind of a goldish-orange. Then other tree species, like any of the maples, oaks and sweetgum, if we have a lot of sunny days, then they are going to go ahead and be able to change in to that red or purple color.”
Burdick also reported that length of the fall color season is dependent upon many factors including temperature, sunlight and, of course, wind and rain.
“This year has been a really good year, I think. We’ve had nice sunny days, and it has been real nice all the way through September and October,” she said. “Many things play into it. If the leaves change and we have a real hard wind storm, rain storm or early frost, this can cause the leaves the drop early.”
According to Burdick, most of the healthy trees in rural areas in the region are near peak, or have significant color showing, while the leaves on trees in some urban areas have already reached their peak.
“This year in particular has been a little strange, I guess, because we had a hot, dry summer in some places — especially yards, along fence rows, urban trees — they changed as early as mid-September, and that was actually brought on by stress rather than actual true fall color season,” Burdick said. “I’m noticing a lot more in woodlands, and in trees that are really healthy, that the trees — probably in your area — are just starting to change or could be near peak.”
Along with variations in color, tree species also plays a role in the length of time in which it takes a tree to begin to lose the green within its leaves, show the underlying pigments beneath and finally lose its leaves completely.
According to Burdick, buckeyes are the earliest trees that change their foliage color and drop their leaves. They can begin changing in late August or early September.
Ash trees also change their color relatively early, according to Burdick, followed by maple trees in mid-season, a time a which point the brilliance of the fall color change is most notable, and then, lastly, by the larger tree species, such as hickory and oak — trees that finish out the season.
The fall colors in the area should last well into the early part of November, according to Burdick.
“In the southern part of Ohio, you guys are in the best place for the fall color to last the longest at this point. It should last through the beginning of November down in the southern third of Ohio is what I am expecting,” she said.
With the diversity of Ohio’s forest and the extensive system of state parks and forests, it is a perfect time of year to get out and enjoy the weather and the beauty this season offers, according to Burdick.
“The outdoors is very important for everyone to enjoy and having these great state parks, state forests, state nature preserves where people can come out and visit and see these nice natural areas rather than being cooped up at home and dealing with the daily grind of going to work and school, it’s just really important. It’s about taking the time to take a break and enjoy nature and each other,” Burdick said. “In Ohio, we are very lucky because we have a great park system, a great forest system. We also have over 100 different types of tree species scattered around the state, so, diversity plays to our benefit.”
A great way to find out about fall outdoor activities, according to Burdick, is to check out the portion of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website dedicated to the season. Best views, scenic drives, hiking and biking trails and events from each region of the state can be found at www.fallcolor.ohiodnr.com.