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Discover Nature: Early Fall Color

Green recedes from the pointed lobes of sugar maple leaves turning orange and yellow in autumn.
Autumn bestows a colorful, seasonal show in Missouri’s outdoors. Watch for the first shades of yellow, red, orange, and purple as the season progresses.

This week on Discover Nature, get outside to enjoy early autumn weather, and keep an eye out for the first signs of fall color.

During the growing season, chlorophyll gives leaves their green color. As daylight hours wane, and temperatures drop, that compound begins to break down, revealing pigments that have been hidden all summer.

Some of these colors, called carotenoids, are the same compounds that make carrots orange, and corn yellow.

Look for these yellows in black walnut, cottonwood, and sassafras trees.

Other colors, however, are NOT hiding within leaves all summer – they’re created when sugars are made during warm days are then trapped in leaves on cool nights. This produces red and purple pigments as seen in smooth sumac, dogwood, and black gum trees.

Among the fading greens and imminent color-show in trees, take-in the fresh wildflower blooms of native asters, bursts of red cardinal flowers and the final glow of goldenrods.

Learn more about why leaves change color here, and find places to hike and enjoy the splendor of fall with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online atlas.

Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.  

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