July 23, 2014

Elyria
Showers
73°F
test

We’re falling into autumn

Tinges of color are beginning to blossom as local trees are preparing to wither with one last hoorah.

JASON MILLER/CHRONICLE
Megan Dobos, 5, and her brother, Cameron, 10, work at cleaning up the leaves in the front yard of their Oberlin home late last month.

The leaves change color every year, but for those who have always wondered about the process, Casey Munchel, one of 20 foresters for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, is always up for some fall schooling, especially when it has to do with trees.

Lesson one — the changing colors of leaves has nothing to do with the pending onslaught of cold weather.

“True fall color is started by the shortening of the days,” Munchel said. “That’s why it happens around the same time year after year.”

In Northeast Ohio, the time to see the area’s peak colors occurs within the first two weeks of October; when the trees realize it’s time to prepare for winter.

The leaves, which serve as the tree’s food collectors, still work to pass the sunlight-produced sugars from the leaves down to the tree base, Munchel said, but are slowly neglected as the tree prepares for dormancy.

The leaves’ vein systems get clogged up with excess sugars, which eventually break down the green of the leaves into an explosion of colors.

Lesson two — each leaf may be pretty, and each also is unique.

Munchel said most of Lorain County shares characteristics of the glaciated Appalachian plateau landscape, which is known for having plenty of maple trees.

“Other species may only produce one variation of color,” she said. “But maples can produce yellow, orange and red. It’s really unique, plus it’s pretty to look at.”

The maple tree will typically stick with one color each year. The red hue, however, is the rarest, and occurs when the leaves producing the sugars have an extra chemical called anthocyanin, which also influences the red color on tomato skins and apple peels, Munchel said.

Lesson three — sometimes the optimal views are in your own backyard.

After several weeks, leaves begin to get so heavy from all the sugar buildup that they break away from their already-weakened connections to the tree branch and fall.

The event occurs throughout the country but works its way from north to south in Ohio.

Bridget Derrick, an administrative assistant at Findlay State Park in Wellington, said the park has a variety of ways to view the changing leaves and offers some fun recreational activities to help do so.

The park has more than 20 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, as well as a 93-acre lake.

If that’s not 21st century enough for you, the park also offers geocaching — a treasure hunting game where you use a global positioning system device to seek containers that contain log books people can initial their names into.

“The leaves are just beginning to change,” Derrick said. “I’ve already seen the yellows and oranges, but even the reds are starting to pop.”

Weekly color reports from state parks are viewable online at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Web site, but Munchel admitted that as long as you’ve got some trees nearby, the views should be spectacular.

“That’s the one thing about Ohio, there are so many places to go,” Munchel said. “People can often overlook that walking through your local neighborhood can also be a great place to go.”

Contact Stephen Szucs at 336-4016 or sszucs@chroniclet.com.