Illinois hunting and fishing

Drought, early spring affect Illinois fall color

October 06, 2012 at 11:45 PM

UTICA—Brilliant red, yellow and orange fall colors are popping up over Illinois but state horticulture experts aren’t sure how long leaves will hold the hues this season after a summer drought.

Fall color is early this year in parts of Illinois, said Rhonda Ferree, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator in Havana in central Illinois.

“Some of that is because of our early spring and some of it is (trees) are shutting down sooner because of the drought,” Ferree said.

The drought caused some plants to turn brown early, Ferree said, and “if it’s brown it’s not going to turn its normal color.”

Some Illinois trees earned a reprieve from the drought in August, when remnant rains from Hurricane Isaac moved into the state. Ferree said those rains “gave the trees the extra moisture they needed.”

But both Ferree and Tom Wilson, forest protection program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, expect a shorter fall color season.

“There has been a fair amount of early leaf drop,” Wilson said. “Trees that were stressed started dropping leaves a month ago.”

Fall colors along the Illinois River are good this year, Ferree said.

“Virginia creepers are intense red just vining up the trunks of trees,” she said. “Sassafras trees are brilliant burnt orange and American ash are really deep purple.”

Illinois state parks are seeing colored leaves, including Starved Rock State Park in northern Illinois and Sugar Grove Nature Center outside Bloomington.

“We just started October and we’ve already got some fall colors going on,” said Mark McConnaughhay, superintendent at Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks.

Sugar Grove has colorful prairie grasses, said Angela Funk, director of the Sugar Grove center at Funks Grove.

“It’s a beautiful time of year,” she said. “The colors. The smells in the air. The sunsets. Kind of the whole package.”