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. 

October - Week 3

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is rich in yellows this time of year. The goldenrod, black-eyed Susan, and other aster flowers contrast the green trees and grasses which haven't turned yet.

October - Week 2

The tallgrass prairie offers a rainbow of fall colors. So many native prairie plants are in bloom this time of year, showing off their hues of purple, pink, yellow and white. Tall goldenrod, New England aster and heath aster are just a few of these plants that you can see from the Iron Bridge Trailhead and  along the Henslow Trail near the River Road parking lot. Fall is a great time to experience the prairie!

Places to See Now:

  • Take a hike on the Twin Oaks Trail.
  • Iron Bridge Trailhead has an abundance of fall wildflowers

Photos of the Week

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Fall Color 2019: Iron Bridge Trailhead

Fall Color 2019: Iron Bridge Trailhead 02







September - Week 1

The prairie at Midewin is abound with colors this time of year. The yellow of coreopsis, goldenrod and evening primrose, the whites and pinks of asters and obedient plant dot the illinoi prairie with color. The grasses are just starting to lose their vibrancy and turn to a dusky brown.

Places to See Now:

  • Iron Bridge Trailhead - starting Sept. 28 visitors can enjoy use of bicycles provided through the "Bike the Canal" Bike Share program. 

Photos of the Week

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Fall Color 2019: Wildflowers

Fall Color 2019: Black-eyed Susan

Fall Color 2019: Goldenrod






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 Illinois in the USDA Plants Database. Select Illinois to view all plant species in Illinois. Please note, not all plants have a common name listed.