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Photo by Earl Nottingham / TPWD

PARK SPOTLIGHT

Why Do Leaves Change Color in Fall?

“Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower,” wrote Albert Camus, 20th century French philosopher and writer. While some who move here from northern climes with more spectacular fall color mourn what they left behind, there are areas of Texas that do put on a colorful show.

Why do leaves change color before they die and fall off, anyway?

The answer requires us to consider why leaves are green in the first place. Leaves contain chlorophyll, a green pigment that absorbs light energy. Plants use that energy to convert carbon dioxide and water in photosynthesis. During the fall, when water is less plentiful, temperatures are colder and days are shorter, the chlorophyll breaks down and the leaves turn colors other than green.

Leaves that change from green to yellow or orange are simply reverting back to the other pigments (xanthophyll and carotenes) already present. Red leaves, such as those on maples and dogwoods, don’t fit that description. The pigment responsible for red in the leaves, anthocyanin, isn’t produced until late summer. It’s a chemical change that gives us red and purple foliage.

Of course, not every Texas tree changes color or even sheds its leaves in the fall. Some years wow us with spectacular color displays, while others are less than impressive. Theories abound on what makes a banner year for fall foliage, and many claim that rainfall amounts make the difference, but the timing of the first frost and other factors may change intensity levels as well.

In general, Texas trees “turn” a bit later in the season than our northern neighbors. If you’re visiting a state park, always check with the park before traveling to be sure you’ve timed your visit to see peak colors.

Here are some state parks that put on a fall show.

GARNER STATE PARK

Use the scenic overlook for the best viewing of the mesquite, persimmon, oak and cypress trees in their autumnal glory.


LOST MAPLES STATE NATURAL AREA

The most popular Hill Country park to see color each fall. As the name implies, look for brilliant Uvalde bigtooth maples here.


DAINGERFIELD STATE PARK

Take a scenic hike around Little Pine Lake at this Northeast Texas park to see the colors of the sweetgum and maple trees along the shore, or view them while paddling.


DINOSAUR VALLEY STATE PARK

While you may visit this Fort Worth-area park for the dinosaur tracks, come in fall to see color too.


LAKE BOB SANDLIN STATE PARK

The Hill Country doesn’t claim all the fall spectacle. Lake Bob Sandlin in East Texas brings the colors of sweetgum, elm, hickory and maple trees.


McKINNEY FALLS STATE PARK

An urban park in South Austin, McKinney Falls boasts bald cypress and red oak in full fall color, including Old Baldy, a 500-year-old bald cypress.


TYLER STATE PARK

This East Texas park offers sweetgum, mockernut hickory, post oak, blackjack oak, red oak and flame-leaf sumac in its fall palette.



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