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Rhonda J. Ferree

Rhonda J. Ferree
Former Extension Educator, Horticulture

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Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog
Sassafras leaves

Fall Color on Spoon River Drive

People go on the Spoon River Drive for many reasons, but fall foliage is enjoyed by all. The Farmers Almanac predicts peak fall color for central Illinois from around October 9 to 24. Due to last summer's drought and our dry late summer leaves are changing color earlier than usual. However, color intensity is always dependent on whether or not we get warm days and cool nights. While enjoying the drive this year, look for fall color on these native plants.

Sugar maples (Acer saccharum) display brilliant yellow, burnt orange, and red tones all at once. Sugar maples have great variation in fall color among different trees and locations. Trees in New England show more orange and red, while Illinois trees develop more of a beautiful golden yellow. Sugar maples are one of the first trees to exhibit fall color each year, starting high in the upper branches and spreading one branch at a time.

Sassafrass (Sassafras albidum) also changes several colors during the fall color progression. The bright to medium green leaves of summer change to shades of yellow to deep orange to scarlet and purple in the fall. This is one of our most outstanding native trees for fall color.

You are also likely to see several types of Sumac along the drive. Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) is a low, spreading shrub with fall color from orange to red to reddish purple. Other sumacs grow as large shrubs or trees and all have spectacular fall color in orange-yellow-red-purple combinations.

Look in the tops of trees and along their trunks for the vines of poison ivy (Rhus radicans) and virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). Both vines are conspicuous in their purple-red to crimson-red fall dress. These vines are the first of all woody plants to color effectively and should not be ignored.

The Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra) is one of the first to defoliate in the fall (just after black walnut). Its fall color is often yellow, but at times develops a brilliant orange-red to reddish brown, probably best described as pumpkin orange. I am sure you'll find many vendors displaying buckeye nuts, but look for the orange leaves too.

Common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) and Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) are common along the Spoon River, but do not have spectacular fall color turning turn yellow or yellow-green. Still they offer a nice addition to the mosaic of other colors.

Other yellows are seen on the ash (Fraxinus sp.) trees. Also coloring early, ash trees are usually a deep yellow however individuals can also be found that turn dark, intense, maroon fall colors.

And finally, you might wonder about all our majestic oaks. Fall color in oaks varies from brown to red to yellow and lasts for a long period. Enjoy the fall colors on this year's Spoon River Drive.

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