Illinois hunting and fishing

Trees of every color glow in this view from Skyline Drive outside Alto Pass. Photos by Chris Young.

Fall colors defy predictions, put on spectacular show

October 28, 2012 at 01:00 AM

After much speculating about the possible negative effects of the drought on fall color, Mother Nature put the whole discussion to rest with a spectacular display.

“Whoever tells you they can predict fall color is a liar,” said Guy Sternberg, a Petersburg arborist and co-author of “Native Trees for North American Landscapes.” “And you can quote me on that.”

Sternberg said many factors determine what colors will shine through.

“All colors are determined by a variety of reasons and each color come from a variety of stimuli,” he said.

Everything from the amount of sugar leaves are producing to the temperature and even soil type can play a part.

“Red comes from stored sugars,” Sternberg said. “You wouldn’t think they would be making sugars when they are this stressed (due to the summer drought).”

Last Sunday afternoon, leaves were just starting to drop on the Sangamon Valley Trail with plenty remaining to provide a canopy of color above bike riders and dog walkers.

In southern Illinois last week, the Shawnee National Forest, state parks and nature preserves blazed with every color imaginable. Even when clouds gathered overhead, colors took on a different hue, but were no less brilliant.

Kathy Casstevens-Jasiek, director of marketing for Starved Rock Lodge, said rainy weather didn’t deter those who came for the park’s Fall Colors Weekend held Oct. 20-21.

“Even though we had some wind and rain, it was a great weekend,” she said. “The rain really saturated the tree trunks, and we had this lovely contrast of the light colored leaves and the dark tree trunks.”

Rain moved through fairly quickly.

“Overall it was a great weekend.”

Sternberg said recent rains appear to have kicked many plants and trees back into gear.

“A lot of things are actually blooming late or re-blooming,” he said. “Things are starting over. Maybe we got enough rain in the late summer to rejuvenate things.”

Illinois hunting and fishing
The Cache River is lined with color.

Going in phases

Still, the drought is taking a toll on trees.

“As we look out the window we are seeing all sorts of red and gold and orange,” he said. “It is a surprising year. Of course we are also seeing a lot of dead trees.”

While trying to predict the intensity of the fall color display can leave the experts “all wet,” in Sternberg’s experience, one thing that can be anticipated is the sequence.

Some oaks are changing color, but they will be among the last to drop their leaves. Sycamores usually are also at or near the end of the line, holding onto their leaves late into the season.

So once the rake comes out of the garage, plan on keeping it handy for a while.

Each rain and strong wind leaves trees a little more bare, but some of the fall display remains.

“Fall seems to go in phases,” Casstevens-Jasiek said. “Now we still have another phase to go. When we get a hard freeze, then you’ll see another round of bright yellows.

“I think it’s not quite over yet.”

Sternberg has one bit of advice for naturalists.

“Don’t try to predict fall colors,” he said. “Just enjoy them.”

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.

Illinois hunting and fishing
The Bald Knob Cross stands over the forested hills of southern Illinois at sunset.

Illinois hunting and fishing
A maple leaf turns yellow tinged with bright red in Giant City State Park.

Illinois hunting and fishing
Sumac glows read along a southern Illinois roadway.

Illinois hunting and fishing
Grape vine leaves start to turn at Owl Creek Winery near Cobden.

Illinois hunting and fishing
Cypress trees stand tall at Heron Pond State Nature Preserve.

Illinois hunting and fishing
Cars pass through a canopy of yellow on the entrance road to Giant City State Park.