Leaf Changing Season

Clinton State Park, 10-24-18

The stunning array of colorful foliage in northeast Kansas is inciting conversation and impressive photo sharing on social media. Cool nights and warm sunny days–the weather pattern we’ve experienced recently–impact the intensity of leaf color in autumn. Frosts and freezing weather can accelerate leaf fall so now is a good time to drive the country roads, walk through the older neighborhoods with mature trees, or find a local trailhead in town or at a regional lake for a rejuvenating hike immersed in color. Take photos of your discoveries, sketch or watercolor your sightings, and challenge yourself to learn the identity of the trees and other plants you’re admiring.

Three weeks ago I previewed this seasonal transition near Boulder, Colorado. A flashing digital sign along a stretch of curvy highway alerted drivers to watch for high traffic areas during “leaf changing season.” Aspens along the roadside were golden while orange-leaved groves punctuated the healthy evergreens at higher elevations. Up ahead as if on cue a small group of tripod toting photographers lugged their gear toward a green meadow sidelined with Aspens. We pulled over to snap quick souvenir photos and lingered to listen to the rustling leaves. Aspen leaves have a flattened leafstalk allowing the leaves to easily move or “quake” in the breeze, creating a soothing sound. Mountain trails winding through peaceful Aspen groves like this one are popular early fall destinations for locals and tourists.

Maple on SW 10th Avenue, Topeka, 10-24-18

Closer to home almost a month later, our Eastern cottonwood skyscrapers are transforming into illuminated towers of yellow like those Aspens–both species have similar characteristics and are in the genus Populus. You can’t miss the blood-orange Sugar maples at their peak now. Even the Pin oaks are kicking in this week and revealing new shades of coppery brown and burnt red. The sheer number of yellow-leaved trees such as the Black walnuts, Redbuds and Cottonwoods is breathtaking.

There has been a marked change since last weekend when I took a slower paced route to work to experience the altered landscape. Blowing leaves crossed my path and mingled to create a temporary multicolored mosaic along the roadside. The morning light was spectacular. Just four days later striking changes across the landscape continue, the intact foliage sparking wonder–a beautiful distraction.

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Kimberly Sain

As a Public Services Specialist, in addition to Reference work I promote the Travel and Lawn & Garden Neighborhoods and coordinate nature-themed programs for adults and families. My interests include hiking and exploring National Parks, Alaska, birding, Sandhill crane migration, Monarch waystations, Kansas native plants, citizen science projects, and volunteer work as a certified Extension Master Naturalist. Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country is my all-time favorite novel.