Saturday, November 05, 2016

Browned Out

In good years with normal weather patterns, by mid October we are afforded cool nights, plenty of rain, presaged by clement summers, which, factors combined, result in spectacular fall color displays in the Missouri Ozarks. Maybe it's just my personal observations, but this year's fall color is seriously lacking in photographic attraction. Even the maples around Hermann and Augusta country which usually allow for foolproof perfect fall color drives are tinged with brown this year with the later cool season, the earlier spring, the dry fall. The panoramic view from the highest point in the Niangua Basin also normally results in breathtaking fall color, but the yellow walnut and hickory leaves are long gone, and the white oak group is changing from fall green to brown. The maroon white oak-yellow hickory-orange sassafras suite of fall color isn't happening this year. In fact, looking at previous photos it should have happened two weeks ago, and now all the trees and shrubs are brown or denuded of leaves from all the high winds.

The warm temperatures persisting into the first week of November and the lack of frost means that a lot of insects who depend on nectar or other plant material are still out and about, trying to forage. Today I saw a sulphur butterfly in my backyard, long after all the asters, goldenrods and bonesets have gone to seed. Are they homing in on neighbors' petunias and chrysanthemums? These horticultural plants just can't be as nutritious as native flora, can they? My across-the-street neighbor has a massive stand of Aster oblongifolius which she rescued from a roadside construction project; this plant continues to bloom in this warm weather with profuse purple ray flowers forming big bushes. Perhaps the stray insects in my yard will find their way across the street. I realize this is micro-scale worry setting in, but this climactic shift across the world is wreaking havoc on wildlife. I just see it more closely in my yard and in the woods I frequent.

So today, donning an old yellow Current River Stream Team t-shirt and raggedy Adidas running shorts, I continued to set up my winter bird feeding operation. The white-throated sparrows are here in droves, and today I saw my first-of-winter brown creeper hanging out on my chinquapin oak. With such a lackluster fall color display, I have been hoarding fall leaves as they end up on the ground. I have collected approximately 50 fall leaves in my plant press that I will preserve in wax paper to hang in my windows this November, inspired (as always) by Meramec Vineyards and Winery. Pay a visit to the tasting room in St. James and you'll see their windows filled with fall leaves preserved in wax paper. Cute. So I'm doing it at home.

The Ozark canopy in Missouri is seriously lacking in fall color this year. My catalpas (which I want to cut down because they don't belong here but offer significant shade in summer months) were very pretty last week, all broadcast in yellow leaves against a bright blue sky. I head south for Thanksgiving where the only fall color exists in exotic tallow trees which are as pretty as Bradford pears in the fall--great color, but horrendously ugly if you understand their impacts to native ecosystems. Climate change is happening now and we have phenology to show it. Bleaching of coral reefs, disappearing glaciers, it's all happening elsewhere, but locally we can see it too. The days of long drives through the woods to photograph Ozark fall color may be a thing of the past. Sadly, we may be past the tipping point of no return.


Rory Foster said...

The dry summer and warmer fall weather has definitely changed the look of the fall foliage.

Allison Vaughn said...

I haven't been all over the place lately, but trees in the central Ozarks are just going from green to brown. A few sites with lots of maples are sort of colorful but lots of browning out on the edges of the leaves. It feels like fall in the Deep South these days.