It's the time of year to put away our swimsuits and break out the pencils, notebooks and sweaters. But not to worry, nature still has a few treats in store for us, including fall's color-changing leaves! The warm red, gold, purple, and orange colors light up Ohio's treetops. They provide an awesome landscape for an autumn walk through a park, or a lovely ride through our scenic driving paths. Read on to learn how our amazing trees create this spectacular show, when the color change happens, and where to see the prettiest colors!
Why do leaves change color?
The leaves of deciduous, or hardwood, trees change color in the fall because there is less sunlight during the fall than in the spring and summertime. The decrease in sunlight causes a chemical change in a tree's leaves. This chemical change causes different trees to turn different colors. These colors, also known as cartenoids and anthocyanins, always exist inside the leaves, but are hidden by the green chlorophyll of spring and summer.
Leaves of hickory, birch and beech trees turn yellow and gold. Maple trees, oak trees, and other trees that are rich in sugar turn shades of purple and red. Still other common Ohio trees, like buckeye, red maple and sweet gum trees, can turn multiple colors.
Nature's fireworks show is delightful while it lasts, but soon the leaves will fall. The trees must keep warm in the winter, so during the fall, the tree sap thickens. The thick sap clogs the veins of the leaves. The leaf then breaks its connection with the branch, and the heavy leaf falls.
Evergreen trees, such as pine trees, get to keep their needles in the winter. This is because the needles are coated in a thick wax that keeps the needles warm.
When will our leaves change color?
September's weather can help us predict what colors we will see in October. Sunny September days and cool nights can make reds and oranges brighter. An early frost can make leaves turn color sooner than usual. Dry weather combined with strong wind can cause leaves to shrivel and fall off quickly.
In Ohio, leaves typically begin to change color first in the northern part of the state, then in central areas, and lastly in southern Ohio. In northern Ohio, leaves tend to peak in color in the first week of October. In central Ohio, leaves tend to peak in the second and third weeks. In southern Ohio, the last week of October tends to be most colorful. This year, because of summer's dry conditions, we may notice leaves changing a little earlier than usual. Keep an eye out for those fantastic hues!
Where can I see the coolest colors?
The best part about fall leaves is that they change all around us. In Ohio, we have many scenic areas that are perfect for leaf-gazing. Take a look at our Fall Foliage Driving Tours webpage at http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/tabid/9585/Default.aspx to find maps that will lead you to some of the best locations. These tours can also take you to nearby state parks, forests and nature preserves for fun outdoor viewing.
In state parks all around Ohio, we're celebrating the fall fireworks show with many cool events, such as: The Fall Color Walk at Malabar Farm on October 9, the Fall Color Canoe Tour at Van Buren on October 10 and Grandma Gatewood's Fall Colors Hike at Hocking Hills on October 16. Check our the events calendar for more fun things to do.
Before we knew the scientific reasons for fall fireworks, many legends explained the cause of the color-change and the reasons why leaves fall. Here is a sample of some interesting leaf lore:
A Cherokee legend says that the Great Spirit once offered to give any tree a magical power if it could stay awake for seven full days and nights. Only the evergreen trees could stay awake. As their prize, their magical power was to stay green all year long. The other trees could not stay awake, and therefore had to lose their green leaves in the fall and sleep in the winter.
Another Cherokee legend tells the story of a small sparrow who could not fly south with its bird family. The sparrow was injured, and needed to find a warm place to stay for the winter. The sparrow asked an oak tree if it could stay in its leaves for the winter, but the oak tree refused. The sparrow then asked a maple tree, and the maple tree also said no. Finally, the sparrow asked a pine tree, and the pine tree agreed to let the sparrow sleep in its needles for the winter. The Creator saw this, and as a reward, let the pine trees keep their needles all year long. While the other trees were punished by losing their leaves in the fall.
A third Native American legend says that when the celestial hunters slay the Great Bear in the sky, blood from the bear falls to earth, coloring some leaves red. When the hunters cook the bear, some of the bear's fat spills from the cooking pot, turning other leaves yellow and orange. Greek mythology explains falling leaves through the story of Persephone. In autumn, Persephone must go to live in the underworld with her husband, Hades. Persephone's mother is unhappy about this, and curses the earth so that nothing can grow, and leaves fall from the trees. In the spring, Persephone returns to live with her mother, and the curse is lifted so that trees can grow green leaves again.