Old summers don't die, they just explode into color - the bright yellows, oranges, reds and purples of our annual Midwest fall foliage show.
The performance is under way now and will peak in various spots until the end of October.
The northern halves of Iowa and Illinois are expected to experience peak colors about Saturday, Oct. 8, with the southern halves being most colorful a week or so later, according to each state's Department of Natural Resources. The question of why leaves change color is complicated, but it basically goes like this:
All leaves contain chlorophyll, the green pigment that is critical in photosynthesis, which allows plants to obtain energy from sunlight to make food.
In early fall - as a response to the shorter days and declining intensity of sunlight - chlorophyll production slows down, then stops, and eventually all of it is destroyed.
That is when the carotenoids, the yellow and gold colors always present in leaves, are unmasked and show themselves. They were there all along - in July, for example - but you couldn't see them.
The red, purple and crimson colors you see in some leaves are produced by a different pigment called anthocyanin, and that is not present until fall, when warm, bright days favor its production (although not in all trees).
That's why you get the most intense color when the days are clear and sunny, the nights are cool (but not freezing) and rainfall has been ideal.
Predicting color is dicey, and many foresters refuse to do it because it depends upon so many factors - not only the weather in autumn but also spring and summer.
Colors generally continue until the first hard frost, which varies from year to year and can drastically shorten a season. Too much rain can blow the show, too.
5 Most Colorful Trees
Color differs by species. Some maples sports red leaves, while others are orange-red or yellow. Maples produce some of this area's brightest color in natural areas as well as in landscape plantings. Two redder-than-red maples can be seen at the Ruhl&Ruhl REALTORS building on Bettendorf's Middle Road.
Oaks turn brown-bronze, coppery-red or purplish, depending upon the variety. You can find them in natural areas as well as in landscape plantings. Black Hawk State Historic Site in Rock Island is a fine place to find oaks.
This native is under siege in many states east of the Quad-Cities because of an invasive pest called the emerald ash borer that kills these trees, so enjoy them while you can. Ashes turn brilliant yellow, red or maroon-purple, depending upon the variety. A particularly showy purple cultivar -- appropriately called "Autumn Purple" -- can be seen along Davenport's East 40th Street, east of Forest Road, where they were planted by the Greenway Habitat group.
This is a shrub, but needs to be in a list of fall color contributors because you can't miss its red leaves on hillsides. And although it's considered a shrub, it can grow to a height of 25 feet and 15 to 20 feet in width. Branches and twigs are covered with brown, velvety hair that resemble deer antlers in velvet, hence its common name.
The distinctive, fan-shaped leaves of this ancient tree (it dates to the time of the dinosaurs) turn pure yellow in fall. And after the first really hard frost, the leaves drop all at once. You won't find these in natural areas, but they are in landscapes here and there. Locations include the corner of Brady and Locust streets and Vander Veer Botanical Park, both in central Davenport.
This is a deciduous conifer whose green needles turn rusty orange-brown in the fall before dropping off. (It's "deciduous" because it loses its leaves in fall, a "conifer" because it produces cones.) When the leaves/needles drop, casual observers become alarmed that the tree is dying. Although native, it's not seen much in natural landscapes. For some small examples, check out the median along 53rd Avenue in Bettendorf.
The hand-shaped leaves of this tree turn brilliant red in fall; they can be absolutely striking. The tree can be iffy in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zone that includes the Quad-City area, though, so it generally isn't found in natural landscapes. Rather, it is a landscape plant in our urban areas.
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Originally Published by: QC Times