Fall colors take center stage

Rob Dale

The colors of fall are beginning to burst forth all around central Illinois, repainting the landscape in fiery red, orange and yellow.

And, according to local plant experts, this year's view could be one of the best in awhile.

"It's been an exceptional year for color," said Franklin Susan, manager of the tree and shrub department at Green View Companies, a landscaping company in Dunlap.

The fall colors, Susan explained, are determined in part by characteristics of each tree variety, but also by the climate.

"Because of the cool nights we had early on, colors have been more vibrant this year," Susan said.

Brian Rinkenverger, nursery manager at Hoerr Nursery in Peoria, said the size of the leaves has also increased the aesthetic appeal.

"We've had a real good growing year this year, so the leaves are nice and big and full," Rinkenverger said. "I've been amazed that we've seen some really great colors already, on the trees that usually color later."

The different colors in leaves emerge when temperatures drop, causing leaves to loose the green, sunlight-attracting pigment called chlorophyll. This gives the other pigments in the leaves center stage.

"The chlorophyll goes away (and) the color that's left is the fall colors we see," Susan said.

John Mullen, assistant chief naturalist at Forest Park Nature Center in Peoria Heights said the warm days and chilly nights experienced recently have an effect on some trees.

"The cool nights slow down the transport of sugars out of the leaf, increasing the production of anthocyanins," Mullen said, referring to a chemical that gives leaves and foods like apples a red color. "And more of the sugar is produced on those sunny days."

Variations in color depend on the variety of tree. Poplar, walnut and locus trees, for example, take on various shades of yellow.

The leaves of the sugar maple - which experts agreed are some of the most prevalent trees in the Peoria area - turn a bright red, with shades of orange and yellow mixed in.

John Dickson, co-owner of Sheridan Nursery in Peoria said one of the most popular trees, and one of his favorites, is the red sunset, a variety of Acer rubrum maple that turns a full, poinsettia-like red. Still, Dickson said he loves the variety of colors.

"There are a lot of trees out there with good fall color," he said.

Susan said a big part of the fall show is not in the tree's tops, but wrapped around their trunks.

"The biggest color that everyone's going to see right now is not on the trees, it's the vines," Susan said, referring to the orange and red Virginia creeper and yellow poison ivy adorning many trees in the area.

All of the local plant experts agreed that there are plenty of places in the area to see nature's show.

"From the bluffs on the river, you'd be able to spot a lot of the nice sugar maples that are coloring right now," said Rinkenverger.

Added Mullen, "Grand View Drive, I think, is exceptional because you get a vista - you can look out over the river."

Rob Dale can be reached at (309) 686-3251 or