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Michigan Fall Color
The current reports are here.
What causes the colors?
Leaf color comes from pigments. Pigments are natural substances produced by leaf cells. The three pigments that color leaves are:
- chlorophyll (green)
- carotenoid (yellow, orange, and brown)
- anthocyanins (red)
Fall color is controlled by both the plant's genetic factors and the environment. Carotene and xanthophyll are yellow pigments produced in foliage all year; along with chlorophyll, the green pigment. In autumn when short days and cool temperatures slow down the production of chlorophyll, the remaining chlorophyll breaks down and disappears. Then the yellow pigments that have been masked by chlorophyll show up.
Some plants produce anthocyanins (red and purple pigments) that may mask the yellow pigments: maples, dogwood, black tupelo, oaks and winged euonymous brighten up with with red and purple colors.
Anthocyanin production increases with increased sugars in the leaves. A fall season with sunny days and cool nights increases sugar content of the leaves and makes fall reds brighter. This also explains the two-tone effect on green ash which exhibits yellow on leaves inside the tree and purple on the outside leaves where they are exposed to sunlight.
The tans and browns of oaks are caused by tannins which accumulate as the chlorophyll disappears.
Fall color starts in September with poison ivy and sumac and ends in November with the larches and weeping willows. Frost and freezing temperatures will stop the coloration process and blacken the leaves.
For more details on how colors change, visit this site.
Also see Michigan Fall Color Tours and Michigan Events - Your source for Autumn hiking and driving tours covering all of the state from Detroit to Lansing, Kalamazoo to Traverse City, and North to Mackinac and the Upper Peninsula. We also have information on apple cider mills and festivals. Contribute and ask questions in our user forum.
Usually fall colors begin in mid-September and run through the end of October, peaking at varying times throughout the state depending on frost conditions. Except for the far western quarter of the Michigan Upper Peninsula which peaks from mid-September to early October, all other areas in the U.P. peak from late-September to mid-October. The expected peak color for the Lower Peninsula is from late September to late October. Of course, this is an "expected" time-frame. The actual timing is up to Mother Nature!