"Leaf-peeping" season set to hit Columbia

Thursday, October 17, 2013 | 7:55 p.m. CDT; updated 12:13 a.m. CDT, Friday, October 18, 2013
As the temperature drops, Columbia' trees begin to sprout beautiful shades of red, orange and purple.

COLUMBIA — When the leaves start changing, Hank Stelzer drives to the Katy Trail near McBaine to catch a glimpse of their intensity.

"Those are some of your more spectacular colors," Stelzer said.

If you go

There will be a two-mile fall color hike at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Guides will be answering questions about tree species and leaf changes throughout the hike. Reserve space on the hike by calling 449-7400.

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As State Forestry Extension Specialist at MU, Stelzer knows the signs to look for before he makes his trip. Bright, sunny days and cool, crisp nights spur leaf color changes. The vibrant show of crimson and scarlet from the Virginia creeper vine and the smooth sumac bush signal the start of "leaf-peeping" season.

"I've got a feeling we're right on the cusp of it," Stelzer said on Thursday.

With daytime temperatures for the next few weeks predicted to be around 60 degrees and nighttime temperatures dipping into the 40-degree range, conditions are right for a better-than-average fall foliage season, Stelzer said.

The brilliance of fall foliage depends on the "stress" trees face during the growing season. Ideally, trees need moisture throughout the season to have good displays. August brought a moderate drought to Boone County this year after a relatively good growing season.

But Stelzer doesn't think that the dry conditions will make a difference.

"If you think back to last year, everybody thought the drought was going to really make us have a lousy fall season, but really it was just the opposite. It was pretty spectacular," Stelzer said.

Forests in mid-Missouri usually reach their peak brilliance in the last two weeks of October, he said.

The brightest colors appear first — maple, sweet gum, dogwood and sassafras trees make the reds, oranges and purples of the fall season. Until then, those bright colors are masked by the leaves' green pigment. Once days start getting shorter and the temperature starts to go down, the chlorophyll in the leaves breaks apart to reveal the colors underneath, Angela Belden, a resource forester at the Missouri Department of Conservation, said.

"Most of the more showy trees are pretty much going," she said.

Columbia residents can still expect to see at least a week of bright colors before lighter yellows and oranges mix into the palate, she said.

As long as temperatures don't drop and it doesn't rain constantly, there should be a few weeks of fall color left. The definite length is hard to predict, Stelzer said.

"Ask me in about three weeks, and I'll tell you if I was right," Stelzer said.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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