PREDICTING OHIO’S FALL COLOR SEASON IS NOT AN EXACT SCIENCE!
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There’s no doubt about it, fall arrives in Ohio around the same time every year. Come September, leaves begin to turn colors and drop from trees. It happens a little earlier in the northern part of the state and a little later in the south.
This change is due to less and less daylight every day. As the days grow shorter, trees develop a barrier (called an abscission layer) between their leaves and branches that prevents carbohydrates and water from passing in and out of leaves. As the green chlorophyll breaks down, colors like gold, yellow, brown and orange show through – especially in hickory, birch and beech trees.
At the same time, the leaves of many “sugary” trees such as maples, dogwoods and sweetgums undergo a chemical change triggered by the cool nights and sunny days that are characteristic of mid-to-late September. This chemical change brings on the russet, purple and bronze leaves that light up the woodlands with the fiery color.
These natural phenomena take place every year and are easy to predict. A much tougher call is how vivid the Fall Color will be and how long it will last. Most of those variables are weather dependent.
When the late September days are especially sunny and the nights very cool, the red, orange and bonze leaves are more vivid. Early frosts cause trees to build their abscission layer prematurely, turning leaves “ahead of schedule.” Severe windstorms can bring leaves down, ending the Fall Color season abruptly.
So predicting Fall Color is not an exact science. However, Ohioans can be assured that it will arrive and that it will exhibit the rich variety of palettes and textures that are so familiar to us all.
-Casey Munchel, ODNR Division of Forestry