Up close for colors
Leave your car and get into the forests if you want to take in nature's fall show
Posted Thursday, October 06, 2005
Your fall color fix may be a little harder to come by this year.
of us accustomed to enjoying nature's annual autumnal show as we travel
suburban streets may need to abandon our cars and actually walk into
local forest preserves if we want to see much of nature's kaleidoscope.
summer's drought, experts said, has stressed many trees to the point
that they're likely to put on a poorer show than usual. Trees
concentrated in cooler forests stand a better chance of turning colors.
We can expect the fall color change to be fast and early.
the third driest season on record," said Richard D. Newhard, director
of the Department of Resource Management for the Forest Preserve
District of Cook County. "Moisture, sunlight - these are all things
that affect the color."
You may have to make to make a special
trip, a little farther than usual, and choose your time, to see that
burst of brightness this year.
For example, the bur oak, white
oak and shagbark hickory leaves were already turning brown in late
September at the Crabtree Nature Center in Barrington, said Conrad
Drust, a naturalist at the center.
"We're extremely dry. Several of our wetlands are almost completely dry," he said.
other forest preserves have fared better, he said, besides having tree
types more likely to color in brilliant hues. Local naturalists point
to wooded areas along the Des Plaines, DuPage and Fox rivers as holding
some of the top trees and shrubs for rich autumn crimsons, bronzes and
Sue Holt, a naturalist with the River Trails
Nature Center in Northbrook, advised leaf lookers to travel trails
along the Des Plaines River, where there are sugar maples and
basswoods, as well as cottonwoods.
"Those are the kinds of trees that typically surround a stream," she said.
is normally the peak time for leaf change, which usually starts around
the beginning of the month and lasts until early November, but some
area trees were already coloring - or just turning brown - in mid- to
late September. This year, said Ron Wolford, educator with the
University of Illinois Extension Service, "the color may be less
intense, more patchy. Some trees may just go from green to brown to
Neighborhood plantings, street trees and other
roadside vegetation, will have suffered most, said Ed Hedborn, plant
records manager and fall-color expert for The Morton Arboretum in Lisle.
plants change early," he said. "In a real dry season, a plant that
normally takes 10 days to two weeks to change, can take only five days."
recommends a trip to a forest preserve or the arboretum to see trees
that are likely to be in the best shape to put on a color show.
"There you have the best conditions, in a natural community of plants," he said.
pointed out that the Morton Arboretum holds not only native trees but
also such plants as viburnums from China; maples from China, Japan and
Europe; and oaks from Russia, which can extend the color show beyond
the normal Midwestern period.
Even so, Hedborn said, "Color change will depend on the weather.
main trigger for color change is the decreasing daylight. After the
fall equinox, the days get shorter." That causes trees to prepare for
winter by stopping their production of chlorophyll, which is what gives
leaves their green color.
"When the green goes out of the leaf,
it uncovers carotenes, a yellow color that's there all year round," but
masked by the green chlorophyll. That accounts for the yellows and
bronzes of cottonwoods and hickory trees.
However, in some
plants, there's a second kind of color produced in the fall when the
weather conditions are right: short days, adequate moisture, warm and
bright days with cool nights.
"That's when you get the richest and brightest color," Hedborn said.
trees such as sugar maples, warm, sunny days followed by cool nights
cause the leaves to produce sugars, but the chill evenings trigger
gradual closing of the tree's veins, preventing the sugars from moving
out of the leaves into the trunk. That spurs the creation of
anthocyanins, pigments that give off the brilliant scarlet and crimson
tints so prized in these trees.
"Those are the plants that really catch our eyes," Hedborn said.
the days aren't sunny, you don't get the sugars and the brilliant
colors. Further, if there's a lot of rain and wind, the leaves can fall
off early. Drought, too, can spur early leaf drop.
"I'd like to
emphasize," said Valerie Blaine, a naturalist with the Forest Preserve
District of Kane County, "that even if the color (of tree leaves) isn't
the best, there are always things to see in the forest preserves. For
example, after our recent rain, there were beautiful fungi all around."
Elizabeth Smid, a naturalist with the Forest Preserve District of
DuPage County, said, "Fall color is not only just in trees, but also in
the prairies and wetlands."
"The prairie has a rich golden color
with touches of purple," said Blaine. "It hasn't been as adversely
affected by the drought as the woodlands. The plants are shorter but
still turning the same gorgeous colors."
"There's lots of nice
color in the prairie," agreed Mark Hurley, an environmental educator
with the Lake County Forest Preserve District. Hurley advised looking
out for "goldenrod, and the native grasses such as the big bluestem,
and the composite flowers such as asters and sunflowers that are
"You don't always have to look up," Blaine said. "You can look down."
Where's the color?
always holding out caveats about the weather, local experts point to
these sites as places where you're likely to see beautiful autumn
colors this month.
• Busse Woods, Higgins Road,
Schaumburg: Trails winding through mature oak forests and meadows
around Busse Lake, plus a herd of elk.
• Deer Grove, Dundee Road
between Hicks Road and Northwest Highway, Palatine: Upland forests and
ravine areas, with ironwoods, elms, mature oaks, hickories and maples,
as well as areas of wetland and prairie remnants.
• River Trails Nature Center, 3120 Milwaukee Ave., Northbrook: Trails through sugar maple woods along the Des Plaines River.
Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle: The area's largest
variety of trees and other plant types, with woodlands and prairie.
Churchill Woods Forest Preserve, St. Charles Road, Glen Ellyn: 271
acres containing one of the last native prairies in DuPage County - an
Illinois Nature Preserve - and the Babcock Grove savanna.
• Danada Equestrian Center, Wheaton: A 753-acre preserve, with 3 miles of trails through woodlands, prairies and marshes.
Meacham Grove, Roselle Road, north of Lake Street, Bloomingdale:
Woodlands featuring a 0.6-mile looped walking path west of
Bloomingdale-Roselle Road. On the east side of Bloomingdale-Roselle
Road, trails circle a 32-acre lake and wind through adjacent woodlands
• Tri-County State Park, Stearns Road west of Powis
Road, Bartlett: 3.8 miles of trails through tallgrass prairie with
wetlands, including Brewster Creek.
• West Chicago Prairie,
Industrial Drive, south of Western Drive, West Chicago: 305 acres
containing more than 500 native plant species in prairies, wetlands and
savannas with numerous walking trails.
Burnidge Forest Preserve, Coombs Road, west of Randall Road, Elgin: 602
acres of rolling woodlands and prairie along a series of watersheds
filtering into Tyler Creek.
• Dick Young Forest Preserve, Nelson
Lake Road, Batavia: Illinois State Nature Preserve with 250 acres of
marshlands featuring a diverse collection of wetland plants surrounded
• Johnson Mound, 41W600 Hughes Road, Elburn: A heavily
wooded "kame," or stratified hill of gravel (deposited by glacial ice
and water some 10,000 years ago) rising 200 feet above the surrounding
prairie and Blackberry Creek.
• Tekakwitha Woods, 35W076 Villa
Marie Road, St. Charles: Oak, hickory and maple forest on the uplands
and a second-growth forest on the edge of the "big bend" of the Fox
River, as well as prairie and marsh lands.
• Tyler Creek Forest Preserve, 401 Davis Road, Elgin: 25 acres of oaks and hickories.
• Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway, along the Des Plaines River, south of Libertyville: Mature, riverside plant life.
• Independence Grove, 16400 W. Buckley Road, Libertyville: Prairies and woodlands with a lake and a wide variety of plant life.
Ryerson Conservation Area, 21950 N. Riverwoods Road, Deerfield: 6.5
miles of scenic trails that wind through a stately forest featuring
many very tall sugar maples.
• Wadsworth Prairie Nature Preserve, east of the Des Plaines River, Wadsworth: Tallgrass prairie.
Half Day and Wright Woods, Milwaukee Avenue south of Townline Road,
Vernon Hills: 528 acres of oaks and prairie plants along the Des
• Coral Woods Conservation Area, 7400 Somerset, Marengo: A 0.4-mile trail amid sugar maples as much as 100 years old.
The Morton Arboretum, (630) 968-0074
Forest Preserve District of Cook County, (800) 870-3666
Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, (630) 933-7200
Forest Preserve District of Kane County, (630) 232-5980
Lake County Forest Preserve District, (847) 367-6640
McHenry County Conservation District, (815) 338-MCCD
University of Illinois Extension's "The Miracle of Fall Color"
The National Forest Service's Fall Color Hotline, (800) 354-4595
Illinois Department of Natural Resources
Fall colors to look for
These plants provide some of the best color in nearby forests and prairies, according to local naturalists.
Posted Thursday, October 06, 2005
American basswood chartreuse to yellow
Black oak dull red to orange brown
Eastern cottonwood yellow
Eastern white oak deep red to orange brown
Northern red oak red to russet to yellow brown
Shagbark hickory golden brown to mustard yellow
Sugar maple bright scarlet to orange
Wild black cherry yellow to orange
Shrubs and vines
Poison ivy bright red
Staghorn sumac yellow, orange and scarlet
Virginia creeper red
Blazing star purple
Bottle gentian bright blue
Canada goldenrod deep yellow
Sky-blue aster light blue
Sunflower yellow and brown
- Leah A. Zeldes
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