Brilliant Autumn Foliage Never A Sure Thing

Sep 20, 2013

It’s just about crunch time as Kentucky’s trees take on their autumn colors.  Big Bone Lick State Park Manager Dean Henson says the peak viewing period for fall foliage is almost always the second and third weeks of October.  It’s been a good year for rainfall, but Henson says weather conditions now are key in helping to make leaf colors radiant.

Eastern Kentucky's Red River Gorge.
Credit Marcel Holyoak / Flitckr, Creative Commons

“So what we need really is we need the proper amount of moisture, coupled with cool evening temperatures that hover just above the freezing point.  The more brilliantly lit sunny autumn days that we have coupled with cool evening temperatures, the better and brighter the fall colors become,” said Henson.

One-time naturalist Dean Henson admits changing weather conditions make it a difficult call.  Colors found in the trees range, depending upon the type of tree.

“Hickories are going to be yellow and rarely anything else.  They’re going to be yellow or shimmering yellow gold.  That’s the only pigmentation that they have in them.  On the other hand, you have maples.  Red maples, of course, are known for their scarlet coloration.  They can get really red.  Also, sourwood trees become brilliant red,” added Henson.

The former naturalist admits brilliant fall colors are unpredictable and infrequent.

“I think if a person thinks about their fall color experience, they might recollect that over the course of a lifetime, there were only a handful of fall color seasons that were truly spectator and the others were so so or just didn’t happen,” explained Henson.

Although there are some good leaf colors in western Kentucky, Henson says the most vivid yellow, orange, and red colors are often found in the eastern third of the Commonwealth.  In that region, he says the forest canopy may have 25-to-30 varieties of trees and many are hardwoods.