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Metroparks Meetup: Fall color, coming soon to a Metropark near you

Vibrant hues will likely peak close to Halloween in northwest Ohio
Published: Oct. 1, 2021 at 6:18 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - The leaves have only just begun to turn in northwest Ohio, but now’s as good a time as any to plan a visit to the Metroparks to take in the view.

“Research shows that now it has to do more with lower daylight and longer nights than anything else, but historically, temperature was a big factor, too,” says master interpreter Kim High.

Recent sunny days and cool nights will help forests get their color in, though recent warmth should stave off peak color until the last week of October (likely first week of November along the lake). “Chlorophyll is the main food-making agent, so the leaves are working all summer long and they’re green from making food from the sun,” High explains. “Some of those colors are already in the leaf and just show up, then other colors are being made more near the end of the season (like sugars) show up more, too.”

The Metroparks are all about variety, with equally colorful names like Virginia creeper and sassafras. “Sassafras is a bit of a funky tree, with 3 different shapes of leaves,” says High. “When the leaf closes its little cellular door down at the base, the sugars get trapped along with the green. If I took this home and set it on a table, that green may go away eventually. You’ll have different colors on the same tree sometimes because there’s different kinds of food being made even in the same tree. You’ll see Virginia creeper vines, bright red thanks to ‘anthocyanins’, and climbing way up some trees. Five leaflets -- not three, like poison ivy -- and people often notice it at the tops of oak trees. Normally, oaks will turn really brown from the tannins in them, but often stay green/yellow in some spots.”

It’s not just leaves turning color in the Metroparks, with certain berries like pokeweed becoming a brilliant magenta. “What that does -- at least, researchers think -- is it calls in the birds who will then eat the berries... that helps the pokeweed spread its seeds. There was even a famous jazz cafe in Toledo that had pokeweed all along their patio, decades ago.”

When the forests are awash with nature’s full-spectrum, Kim High says the visitor experience says it all: “You hardly need an explanation to really appreciate fall... that’s the beauty of it, hooking people in and they’ll want to come back. The fall color just accentuates everything else you do in the Metroparks.”

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