Hoosier Hearts Skip Many Beats When October Sets The Woods Ablaze

Inside Outdoors

By Don Jordan

posted Oct. 8, 2008

Southern Indiana is ablaze in brilliant shades of orange, red and yellow, and we will be enjoying brisk, chilly mornings and bright, clear days.  Ah, October.

There is no Hoosier heart that beats that does not skip and stabs us with a pang of nostalgia and homesickness when October rolls around.

It does seem like magic, and maybe it is, or maybe we like to think it is. People draw all kinds of metaphysical messages, comforts, and images of pure beauty from our trees every fall.  Seeing this display once leaves a desire to see it again, again.

I have traveled hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles to get back home in Indiana for October.  Although May is mighty welcome every spring, October is the best of them for me.  I long ago gave up trying to describe it in words, because there just aren’t enough words, or the right words, to explain the sight, smell and fell of October.  An artist like T.C. Steele could capture the color and a sense of October.  Film can get the color right, but no medium can ever recreate the overwhelming experience of mid-October.

So, I’ll go the other way this year and sacrifice the big picture for the little one and maybe help you out in the “no kid left behind” race.  Here are some factoids you can clip and save about leaves changing color:

*Green leaves are green because of chlorophyll.  However, yellow to orange carotenes and xanthophylls pigments are there too.  You just can’t see them when the green chlorophyll covers them.

*Other chemical changes take place as the chlorophyll fades, and some of these changes create red anthocyanin pigments.  Mixtures with this pigment cause the red-to-purple colors in dogwoods and sumacs as well as the brilliant orange and red of the sugar maples.

*The main coloring ingredients in trees with brown leaves in the fall are waste products left behind in the leaf as the chlorophyll subsides.

*As fall color appears in the leaf, the tree is making a layer of cells where the leaf stem is attached. These cells eventually squeeze the stem off and the leaf falls.  It leaves a tiny scar.

*Most of our hardwood trees shed in the fall, but lots of oaks keep their dead, brown leaves all winter or until new growth begins.  In the South, many hardwood species keep their green leaves all winter and drop them in the spring.

*Low temperatures above freezing favors anthocyanin production that makes the bright reds in maples.

*Early frost weakens the brilliant reds.

*Rainy, overcast days tend to increase color intensity.

*The best time to enjoy fall color would be a clear, dry and cool, but not freezing day, says the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Go forth to leaf gaze now with new understanding, eh?  Most of all, remember that this happens only once a year.  Our life span coincides with 70 to 80 fall color displays, but we don’t really get to “see” them all.  When we are young, all we see are the pretty leaves, and when we are older, we see that we aren’t going to see that many more falls. 

Fall is bittersweet for sure. Right this minute I’m thinking of our Hoosier soldiers over in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Some of them will never see another Indiana fall.

You can email Don Jordan by clicking the email link at http://realindy.com

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©Copyright 2008. Donald Lee Jordan

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