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IU expert: 'We've been set up well for a nice leaf season'

Oct. 8, 2014

Ah, fall -- when the nights grow chilly and pumpkin-flavored everything hits the stores. But for Hoosiers, the season also means beautiful foliage.

Inside IU recently caught up with tree expert Sarah Mincey, associate director of the Integrated Program in the Environment, administrative director of the IU Research and Teaching Preserve and research associate with The Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis. She offered tips on leaf season and optimal viewing times: 

Fall leaves in Bloomington

Leaves have started changing color on the IU Bloomington campus. | Photo By Eric Rudd, IU Communications

Q: What should we expect for this year's fall color?
A:
Autumn foliage color is dependent on weather -- sunlight, temperature and moisture -- throughout the growing season, as well as geography. Given the variability of weather, it can be hard to predict. But we may have a nice season, with typical peak color timing relative to autumns we’ve experienced in the recent past, given that we had a fairly good growing season thus far in terms of temperature and precipitation. Late summer drought can cause trees to shut down growth early, causing leaf drop too early for good color, which we’ve experienced in recent years. Right now, sunny days and cool, frostless nights are key for the best color. A frost would shut down growth and “kill” the leaves, preventing good color. What we can say is that we’ve been set up well by this spring and summer for a nice season. Time will tell the rest of the story.

Q: What's a good way to tell the optimal "leaf looking" time for my area?
A: A great place to track colors by geographical location is this online fall foliage map.  

Q: What types of trees create the best color?
A: Our native trees in Indiana produce amazing colors. Sugar maples (Acer saccharum) are always a favorite and have a variety of shades from one individual tree to the next, from yellow, orange and reds. I love trees that produce a variety of colors on one individual. This is the case for sassafras (Sassafras albidum) as well as American sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua); one individual tree can display lingering green along with yellow, orange, crimson and purple. And don’t forget about the beautiful reds produced from the native vine Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). Although not native, Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) and Gingkos (Gingko biloba) produce some vivid reds and yellows, respectively.

A: Are there spots throughout the state that are good to view fall foliage?
Q: The Bloomington campus is always an amazing place to observe fall colors, and folks can take a walking tour of campus trees using this guide. In general, however, state parks are great spots for viewing fall foliage -- think Clifty Falls, Pokagon, Turkey Run, Spring Mill and Brown County -- as are our state forests and the Hoosier National Forest.

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