Falling into Place

Confluence of Conditions Creates Spectacular Chicago Autumn

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Staghorn Sumac. Image credit: The Morton ArboretumIs there a more pastoral image than an autumn afternoon? The scarecrows are on guard. The lovebirds are out for a stroll. But there's one overwhelming reason these months are so memorable.

“Definitely, the colors,” said tree lover Lauren Stack. “It's just unbelievable the colors of fall.”

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Tree experts at The Morton Arboretum are calling this the most colorful fall here in years.

“All the environmental factors are there,” said Doris Taylor, botanist at the Arboretum. “There's a lot of things that contribute to fall color and they all seem to be falling into place, so to speak, this year.”

Taylor says the unusually rainy September, followed by the unusually warm and sunny October, have augmented the genetic factors that lead to change in leaf pigmentation. 

“As we get into these sunny days, cool nights, sugar starts to be trapped in there and that’s when the reds and oranges start to be produced,” she said.

One red maple tree in particular, it’s more like pinks and purples. It has the photographers snapping and the kids grabbing for a piece of nature's palette. Korean Mountain Ash. Image credit: The Morton Arboretum

There's a cost of course to all this pastoral beauty. But if you're not tied to a perfectly green lawn, you can get rid of the rake.

Taylor says all the raking and bagging of leaves is a waste of time and money. To the lazy homeowner who would prefer to stay in on a Saturday and watch football, simply mowing over the leaves and leaving the remains for the winter is good for your lawn.

“They act as an insulation layer. They're gonna add nutrients back into the soil, so instead of buying mulch, you're getting it for free,” said Taylor.

But, no sense in worrying about what’s yet to come. There's a good, solid week or two to enjoy the present.

Doris Taylor says that we are nearing the end of the peak for colors in the Chicago area. So if you want to catch the colors, central Illinois will peak about two weeks after us, and southern Illinois, two weeks after that.

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