Drought could mute colors of fall foliage

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The lack of rain in southwest Missouri is expected to produce less than spectacular fall color this year, according to officials stationed at the U.S. Forest Service ranger station in Cassville.

Oct. 14 through Oct. 22 has been tabbed as the peak time to view fall foliage in the Barry County area.

"Because of the drought, fall color is expected to be short lived," said Julie Asher, office activities clerk at the Cassville ranger station. "Virginia creeper and poison ivy have changed to red and yellow. Maples are showing branches of color but not whole trees. Sassafras and sumacs are showing oranges and reds, and both black walnut and tulip trees are showing yellow."

Rick Linebarger, another Forest Service employee based in Cassville, agrees with Asher's predictions.

"Oct. 14 through 22 will be the peak dates, but since it is so dry don't expect much color," said Linebarger. "And remember, the color won't last long."

Officials with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) are predicting that northwestern and southeastern Missouri will boast the most vibrant fall colors, because these two areas of the state received more rainfall than other areas.

Justine Gartner, MDC's forestry field programs supervisor, said fall color almost always peaks on Oct. 15 in Missouri.

"Warm sunny days and cool nights favor the development of fall foliage," said Gartner.

Nighttime lows in the 50s and 60s, which are predicted this week, cause leaves to stop producing green pigment. Sugars stored in leaves undergo chemical changes at the same time, producing shades of purple, red and orange in the leaves.

Spectacular color can still be found in areas hit by drought. Trees growing along creeks and river beds are less affected by dry weather so driving through valleys is a good way to spot fall colors.

For fall color updates, visit www.missouriconservation.org/ nathis/seasons/fall or the U.S. Forest Service site at www.fs.fed.us/news/fallcolors. The Forest Service also operates a fall color hotline, which can be accessed at 1-800-354-4595.

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