Fall Foilage Murray State gum tree

A solitary red leaf appears in this image taken early this week of a black gum tree along North 15th Street on the Murray State University campus. So far, this seems to be the norm for the annual fall foliage season as most leaves are still in their summer green colors at at time of year an explosion of other colors has already started.

MURRAY — Like many residents of far-western Kentucky and northwest Tennessee this time of year, Dr. Kate He enjoys the annual fireworks display of Mother Nature known as the fall foliage as trees’ leaves explode with color.

However, this year, the longtime Murray State University professor of plant biology is not too thrilled with how things are going. The foliage is well behind schedule this year and in danger of either being significantly trimmed in duration or not happening at all. For someone who takes numerous photographs of the color display for her enjoyment each year, this is not a part of her study of the subject she enjoys enduring. 

“It’s still green. It looks like summer. Yes, it’s kind of disappointing,” He said Thursday while sitting on a bench outside of the campus’s Biology Building in a plaza that normally looks quite different. “We need yellows and oranges and reds, purples. That’s not happening.

“We still have too much green. We still have butterflies, even hummingbirds are still around. That’s not right. It’s crazy.”

But that is the way it is right now and, unless things change dramatically in the next few weeks, this year’s foliage may run out of time to occur. He said the area is in a race before the first killing frost of the season.

“And with no rainfall, if that frost comes early, it’s pretty much finished,” she said how the foliage peak could be concluded before most people notice. “If that frost comes, they’ll go straight to brown.”

Thanks to what appears to be a permanent break in what had been a seemingly unending hot spell of hot and dry weather, He said there is a glimmer of hope that the fall show could last as long as two weeks, provided that enough rain falls and there are enough bright, sunny days through the remainder of October into early November. She said the maximum duration of the foliage is up to three weeks, but she said this year’s hot and dry conditions have pretty much ruled that out. 

“Predictions for fall foliage are always very hard to make,” He said. “You have temperatures changing, precipitation can change from year to year. 

“I hope we do have (a foliage) that is more than a few days, because I know I enjoy all of the wonderful colors. But we have to consider this being a short time this year.”

Whether or not the usual fall show does happen this year, He said she recommends that residents do not clean their yards of leaves after they fall. While this may bring an unkempt appearance, she said it is ultimately a healthy thing for the grass and soil. 

“Those leaves bring back organic matter and they decompose on their own,” she said. “So you don’t have to add fertilizer by doing that, but I know people want to have a beautiful yard and think it looks better with the leaves picked up.

“However, leaving them is really ecologically friendly and a good thing to try.”  

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