The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

September 28, 2012

Don’t write off fall color in Ozarks just yet

With the arrival of October on Monday, Ozarks residents could get paid in spades for the withering heat they endured this past summer.

Fall in the Ozarks can almost wipe away the memory of triple-digit heat day after day.

Well, almost.

This year’s heat was accompanied by one of the worst droughts on record in the Midwest, stressing and even killing trees. Some trees shed part or all of their leaves early, going into survival mode in response to the drought. However, September rains may have salvaged what was setting up to be an otherwise lackluster autumn.

“Everything is not predictable with the drought,” said Jenny Farenbaugh, district ranger over the Ava, Willow Springs and Cassville units of the Mark Twain National Forest. The Mark Twain covers 1.5 million acres across central and southern Missouri, including Barry County.

“So far, from what I’ve seen from being out in the field, we are seeing some really pretty color. I’m frankly quite surprised. It’s very vivid and very crisp.”

The Missouri Department of Conservation reports that there is hope for a good fall showing. According to the MDC, trees need water for photosynthesis, which produces the sugars that provide the colors when the green pigments break down.

“Recent rainfall came just in time for one last gasp of sugar making,” the agency stated in a recent fall color report. “Given a few sunny days and cool nights, trees can still put on their autumn finery.”

Jon Skinner, an MDC urban forester in Joplin, said he has been surprised in the past by the resilience of native species and even ornamentals. He wasn’t expecting a strong autumn show last year either, but Mother Nature delivered.

“Last year, I thought it would be pretty dull, and it turned out pretty nice,” he said.

Still, while he thinks autumn’s overall show might still be modest, he predicted pockets of good color.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a ‘wow!’ year,” Skinner said of 2012. “There are a lot of brown trees out there.”

He noted that the ivy, Virginia creeper, sumac and sassafras already are starting to turn in the Ozarks. Dogwoods are showing some of the wine color they are famous for each fall, and walnut, ash and hickory are starting to show yellow.

“If we get the right conditions, the trees are able to recover OK, it may turn out.”

While the understory vegetation is turning, the oaks will be the major player, said Farenbaugh, and their show is still a few weeks out.

Dusty Reid, superintendent of Roaring River State Park, also is reluctant to write off the fall color just yet.

“Sometimes, Mother Nature does surprising things,” he said.

Two years ago, Roaring River experienced a severe drought that lasted for two months, but the park had one of the best fall color displays in recent memory.

“It was magnificent. Some of our most spectacular fall color pics were from two years ago. If it is anything like two years ago, it will be great,” Reid said.

“Right now, it’s just getting started. The maples are starting to turn orange and our oaks and elms are showing a little bit of yellow.”

Fall color typically develops first in northern Missouri in early October and spreads south during the following weeks. Foresters say the best colors likely will be seen a little earlier this year, due to drought stress.

MDC collects fall-color reports from foresters around the state and assembles them into a weekly report available online at The reports are updated every Thursday.

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