Fall puts on a show in Michigan, but what’s the purpose?

Fall colors seen in Huron Township. (Archive photo by Scott Bolthouse — The Huron Hub)


Causes, common misconceptions, and opportunities to enjoy the annual fall show

Submitted by: Huron-Clinton Metroparks

As the leaves begin their annual autumn color change, there’s no better time to get out and explore the beautiful natural scenery in Michigan. Typically, peak season to experience fall colors in southeast Michigan is around mid-October. But the reason behind nature’s annual show is a mystery to many.

“There’s nothing like the vibrant colors of autumn in Michigan,” said Amy McMillan, Director at the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority. “Everywhere you look is a one-of-a-kind color palette. While it’s beautiful to witness, it’s also an essential process to protect our trees. It helps ensure that trees are prepared to survive the upcoming winter.”

The simple answer behind the color change is declining daylight, which signals to trees that winter is coming. Leaves get their green color from chlorophyll that is produced through photosynthesis. When the days shorten, the process slows. Veins that connect leaves to the tree to share nutrients and water are eventually closed off and no new chlorophyll is produced. Other sugars like carotenoid can then shine through to show off the brilliant reds, oranges and yellows associated with autumn.

“The colors are there the whole time,” said Kevin Arnold, Southern District Interpretive Supervisor at the Metroparks. “As the days shorten, they finally get the opportunity to shine through as chlorophyll production slows and eventually stops. It’s a common misconception that cold weather is the key factor for the color change. Shorter days actually have the greatest influence. It’s also a safety mechanism for trees. Trees store nutrients to ensure growth in spring. By sealing off the leaves, trees are able to retain the needed nutrients in their roots.”

After they are sealed off, leaves eventually are shed from the tree. Many people think the show ends there as the leaves should then be raked and bagged. However, this is another common misconception. It’s not actually necessary to rake leaves. In fact, fallen leaves are good for the soil. They form a protective layer on the ground that helps release and retain nutrients, which supports a strong ecosystem.

While a variety of factors make it hard to pinpoint when exactly peak color season will occur, there are many reports that work to predict when it will hit. Visitors looking to experience peak fall colors can learn more here.

As that time quickly approaches here in southeast Michigan, it’s also important to be aware of the best places to get out and see the brilliant colors. The Metroparks have opportunities for individuals and families to explore on their own or take part in group activities. With 13 Metroparks across five counties in southeast Michigan, there are many chances to enjoy the show.

“The colors of autumn make it one of the best seasons to get out and explore your local parks. And there’s plenty of chances to do so across the Metroparks, whether you’re a photographer looking to capture the scenes or a family who wants to spend a Saturday enjoying the colors,” said McMillan.

To learn more about the fall experience at the Huron-Clinton Metroparks, please visit Metroparks.com/FallFun.


 

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