K-State Research and Extension News
October 18, 2013
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Leaves Turn to Gold: Expect Bright Fall Colors in Kansas

More rainfall this year compared to last year may lead to brighter fall colors for leaves, despite late start

MANHATTAN, Kan. – The cool, crisp air of fall brings thoughts of pumpkins, cider and landscapes colored in shades of red, orange and gold. Because much of Kansas received more rainfall this year than last year, trees should develop bright colors in late October, according to Charles Barden, professor of forestry for Kansas State University and state extension forester for K-State Research and Extension.

“Fall colors are dependent on the weather,” Barden said. “Sunny days and cool nights make for more intense and lasting colors.”

Although Kansas is not famous for its outstanding fall foliage displays, Barden said, all parts of the state display their own unique color palette in fall. Sugar and red maples are known to produce beautiful fall colors, and although they are not common in Kansas, several towns have planted enough of these trees to put on a fall show.

Some Kansas towns, including Baldwin City in the east-central part of the state, sponsor maple leaf festivals in October to hit the peak color time of the trees. Baldwin City’s festival is Oct. 19-20.

Another place to view maple trees is on Highway 69 in eastern Kansas, Barden said, which is a designated scenic byway. The stretch from Louisburg to Fort Scott goes through numerous hills and valleys where groves of sugar maple occur naturally, usually on the north-facing slopes.

“The village and stream named ‘Sugar Creek’ in this area was named for the maple sugaring industry that was active there in the late 1800s,” Barden said.

In addition to the maple trees, several more common species native to Kansas also color up nicely. Native to the southeastern Kansas lowlands, the pin oak will turn a dark crimson in late October and into November, Barden said, and the hickories abundant on the hillsides in this region turn a bright yellow. 

“Look for the bright yellow of our cottonwoods and hackberry, and the bright red of the sumac,” he said. “Both of these species look more striking if they have a backdrop of dark green cedars or pines.”

Leaves aren’t alone in turning colors during the fall. The prairie grasses have also changed color, Barden said. From a distance the hills appear a uniform rusty orange, but on closer inspection bright purples and other colors are evident, while some sunflowers, goldenrods and asters are still in bloom.

Barden provides updates about fall foliage with the Kansas City Star newspaper (http://www.kansascity.com/2013/10/11/4546462/despite-slow-start-fall-colors.html).


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by: Katie Allen
K-State Research & Extension News

Charles Barden – cbarden@ksu.edu or 785-532-1444