Fall foliage dazzles the Pine Belt

Fall leaves
Fall leaves

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Fall foliage may not create as striking a display in Mississippi as it does in the Northeast, but already some trees have donned their festive fall colors.

Leaves in Mississippi start to change right around this time of year, with slight variation due to environmental conditions.  Leaves will continue to change through Thanksgiving and into early December.  But what causes them to change?

"Foliage changes because plants have pigments in them called chloroplasts," explained Glenn Hughes, extension professor at Mississippi State University Extension Service. "During the regular part of the year, these are green because there's a lot of chlorophyll. But during fall, what happens is that the chlorophyll gets moved out of the leaves into the root system and there are other pigments that are left behind."

The pigments that are left behind are responsible for the yellows, oranges, and reds.

"It's not super clear as to how the weather directly impacts fall colors," said Micheal Davis, associate professor of USM's Biological Sciences Department.  "In a dry year, sometimes the trees will decide to jettison their leaves early simply because of lack of moisture. For optimal fall color, you'd like a moderate, wet summer that transitions nicely into a dry fall."