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Fall color close to home: Why go to Brown County? Enjoy leaves around here

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Driving through Franklin’s downtown neighborhoods, local residents are treated to an annual nature-based art show.

Dogwoods have morphed to a deep crimson. Red maples radiate fiery orange layered on reds and yellows. Hickory, tulip and beech trees dropped their leaves in a flurry of gold.

While Brown County has the reputation for flashier fall colors and breathtaking scenic views, Johnson County has plenty for leaf-peepers to take in. From the twisting turns of Prince’s Lakes to splashy stands of trees between rolling farm fields in Rocklane, residents have had their share of scenery to take in.

Though the peak may be past, a few final holdouts still give people a burst of color on this last weekend of October.

“We’ve had some really brilliant fall color throughout Indiana this year, and that goes along with what we’ve seen in other drought years. Despite the stress on those trees, the foliage tends to really perform well during those years,” said Lenny Farlee, hardwood forestry specialist for Purdue Extension.

Leaf lovers were concerned coming into the fall that the summer drought would mute autumn’s normal splendor. But well-timed rain and an abundance of sunny days with cooler nights have made October more spectacular than expected, Farlee said.

Leaves appear green during the spring and summer because of the presence of chlorophyll, a chemical plants use to make food. The chemicals that cause the reds, yellows, purples and oranges are overwhelmed by the green chlorophyll, Farlee said.

But as temperatures get cooler, that chlorophyll starts to break down. The other colors are free to emerge. A chemical called anthocyanin causes a reddish tint. Tannin, a waste product stored in cells, presents itself in brown or golden colors. Carotenoids cause yellows and oranges.

“What tends to determine it is the weather at the end of the season. If we have clear, sunny days and cool nights without any frost, we seem to get some really good color. That seems to be what happened this year,” Farlee said.

Some of the best leaf-spotting can be found on country drives in rural settings, he said.

Hurricane Road from Franklin up to Rocklane provides a mix of hickory and maples that are only now approaching the tail end of their vibrant glory.

In the Center Grove area, towering aspens, paper birch and tulip trees line the drive along Stones Crossing Road.

The drive down Nineveh Road and around Prince’s Lakes and south into Cordry-Sweetwater offers a canopy of colors along a corkscrewing route. Downtown Franklin features old-growth trees among historic buildings and homes. Local parks, such as Franklin’s Blue Heron Park and its wetlands, offer a little slice of nature in the middle of an urban setting.

“The community of Franklin is kind of blessed. We’ve got so many big, beautiful old trees, especially downtown. Not only street trees, but in people’s yards,” said Larry Nun, chairman of the Franklin Tree Board. “You don’t have to go very far. All you have to do is wander around Franklin to see all kinds of great colors.”

While many Johnson County trees have dropped their leaves already, certain species are still ready to put on a show, Farlee said.

Oak trees have held out their collection of reddish-brown leaves, and many have yet to drop, Farlee said. Oaks are originally more of a southern species and tend to hold out longer than northern species such as maples, beeches and birches.

Hickories are also painting the forest areas a bright yellow.

Other trees that are holding on to their leaves are non-native species such as white mulberry and certain varieties of honeysuckle. Because those were brought from other, more tropical areas of the world, the genetic code hasn’t adjusted to Indiana weather, Farlee said.

“They’re not tuned in to our daylight and our temperature. The lengths of our nights is what triggers leaves to lose their chlorophyll, and if they’ve been brought from another place, they might keep their leaves until November,” he said.

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