Fall Colors

Fall Color: page banner


Why Do Leaves Change Color?

Each year as nights begin to get longer, the trees begin to change from the vibrant green of summer to the warm tones of gold, orange and red. As temperatures cool, trees produce less chlorophyll. Chlorophyll, which gives leaves their green color in spring and summer, makes glucose, a sugar, from sunlight, which feeds the trees. As chlorophyll production stops we begin to see the yellow, red, purple and orange pigments, or the leafs "true" color. After a while the tree leaves fall as the tree closes off the veins that carry water and nutrients to and from the leaves and the leaves weaken and fall. 

The leaves that fall begin to break down on the ground, providing nutrients into the soil for other trees and plants. The tree itself becomes dormant, or sleeps, during the winter until temperatures warm enough for it to create new leaves in the spring. 


Certain colors are characteristic of particular species:

  • Oaks: red, brown, or russet
  • Hickories: golden bronze
  • Aspen and yellow-poplar: golden yellow
  • Dogwood: purplish red
  • Beech: light tan
  • Sourwood and black tupelo: crimson

The color of maples leaves differ species by species:

  • Red maple: brilliant scarlet
  • Sugar maple: orange-red
  • Black maple: glowing yellow
  • Striped maple: almost colorless


When to See the Color

This section covers what type of color you will see, when. Along with suggestions on where you might find color throughout the fall color viewing season. 


September - Week 1

No color to report yet.

Photos of the Week


Fall Color: red grass

Fall Color: Aster

Fall Color: maple leaves



What to Look For

(please note that these graphics are not linked to anything).

Fall Color: maple leaves


Trees to look for:

  • Sugar maple (pictured)
  • Red maple
  • Northern red oak
  • Quaking aspen
  • Big-tooth aspen
  • Black cherry
  • Beech
Fall Color: Aster


Wildflowers to look for:

  • Asters (pictured)
  • Golden Rods
  • False Boneset
  • Blazing Star
  • Three-lobed Coneflower
  • Black-eyed Susan
Fall Color: red grass

Ferns and Grasses

Grasses to look for:

  • Sedges
  • Rye
  • Bulrush
  • Wool Grass

Ferns to look for:

  • Bracken Fern
  • Cinnamon Fern
  • Wood Fern
  • Sensitive Fern
Fall Color: Witch Hazel


Shrubs to look for:

  • Witch Hazel (pictured)
  • Viburnum
  • Chokeberry
  • Cinquefoil
  • Winterberry
  • Forsythia
  • Elderberry
  • Juniper
  • Hawthorn

Find more flowers, shrubs, ferns and grasses for Michigan in the USDA Plants Database. Select Michigan (second column, fourth from the bottom in the list of states). Please note, not all plants have a common name listed.