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Trees' fall colors depend on species
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- For all the hype about "right conditions" to yield the best fall foliage, the key to outstanding tree color is likely the species itself.
Mississippi trees often enter the fall after experiencing a dry season and that means relatively cloud-free days as well. These conditions typically bring vibrant colors. However, this year's weather situation has been drastically different after two tropical storms and days of overcast and rainy conditions.
"Despite the clouds and rain, we should still have some outstanding color around Mississippi this fall," said Norman Winter, horticulture specialist with Mississippi State University's Central Research and Extension Center in Raymond. "Red maples such as Autumn Blaze and October Glory are showing exceptional color, and we can always depend on the hickories and gingkos, which are already showing good color."
Winter said weather conditions play a bigger role in some trees' showing than in others.
"Good weather conditions for fall color usually boils down to cool night temperatures and warm, sunny days," Winter said. "If an abundance of cloudy weather prevents photosynthesis from taking place, leaf color will be mediocre, even if temperatures are ideal. Cloudy weather also can weaken leaves and make them more susceptible to northern winds removing them."
For homeowners wanting to ensure fall color each year, regardless of the weather, several species offer more reliability.
"Hickories and sweet gums are not common purchases for most people, but they are very reliable when it comes to fall color," Winter said. "Hickories have gold-yellow leaves that hold for a long display. Sweet gums have attractive palmate leaves and provide some of the deepest shades of orange and crimson."
Winter said people can avoid the spike-covered balls of the sweet gum tree if they purchase the fruitless variety, rotundiloba.
In addition to hickories, some of the best trees for yellow are the green ash, gingko and elm. The best trees for red, in addition to the sweet gum and ornamental pear, are the red oak, black gum, red maple and Japanese maple.
"The Chinese pistashe is one of the prettiest trees catching on around Mississippi. These medium- to small-sized trees fit nicely into urban landscapes and yield some of our best oranges and reds," Winter said.