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News From ElsewhereAugust 29, 2001

A peek into the crystal ball for fall colors

By Mary Hoff, maryhoff@earthlink.net

How will those squooshy forest tent caterpillars that chomped their way through northern Minnesota affect this year's fall colors? What about the wet spring and hot, dry July?

In general, a warm, moist summer followed by cool nights and sunny days favors good autumn tree color, while insects and other stress can reduce foliage quantity and cause colors to change early. Grasses and wildflowers are adapted to a spectrum of conditions, so whims of weather have little overall impact on the palette displayed by a healthy, diverse prairie. Predicting color change, however, is a lot like predicting the weather: Although we can make educated guesses, ultimately Ma Nature will do as she pleases.

That said, here are some prognostications, based on input from DNR and University of Minnesota experts:

  • Prairies should be in fine fall form, with the reds and golds of grasses complemented by yellows and purples of wildflowers throughout the fall season.
  • Hardwoods in the south are generally in good shape. Fall weather will likely be the biggest factor in how and when these trees show their stuff.
  • Around Rochester, July's heat may produce early color in maples. If nights cool nicely, we should see an average to spectacular fall display.
  • Twin Cities maples, ash, and elms may turn early due to last fall's drought and winter injury. Just north of the Twin Cities, the dearth of summer rain may mute the display a bit.
  • Central counties that escaped drought and forest tent caterpillar defoliation will likely show a good display of brilliant reds and yellows of northern hardwoods as well as the subtler auburns of oaks.
  • The golden hues of aspen and birch will likely be less intense in the north this year, thanks to forest tent caterpillars. Insect damage may also cause some trees to turn early. Maples are in fine shape.

The bottom line? Except for a bit less yellow up north and patchy early turning, if good fall conditions prevail this year's color display should uphold autumn's right to top billing in Minnesota's theater of seasons.

Happy color-watching!

Asian longhorned beetle

The Asian longhorned beetle has been found in the northern Austrian city of Braunau and is doing much the same damage as seen in Chicago and New York. Authorities are working quickly to remove infested trees and investigate the source. German neighbors in Munich are watching for signs of spread.