JEFFERSON CITY - It's just the trees' natural defense that's caused a boring Missouri fall, according to the state's Conservation Department.
Forestry education coordinator Bruce Palmer said erratic weather conditions this year have muted Missouri's typically vibrant autumn foliage, and it doesn't look like anyone will get a color show before old man winter appears.
"We're well past the peak of fall color," he said.
Palmer said summer drought in different parts of the state, combined with inadequate autumn rainfall, forced some trees to enter a kind of safety mode -- one that foregoes the typical color change most trees go through this time of year.
"A tree will simply drop its leaves when it doesn't get enough water," he said. In order to conserve resources, tree expedites the browning of its leaves before discarding them.
Palmer said the northeastern part of the state had trees that "peaked" early and faded quickly because of persistent dry conditions. Other parts of the state fared somewhat better, particularly in the Ozark region.
The Conservation Department hosts a web site that shows when color changes are expected on various tree species throughout the state during the fall -- including oak, sumac, ash, sassasfras and many others. The site also offers an interstate route map with color shadings for tourists.
Although festivals, sports events and other attractions receive a fair share of visitor attention during autumn, state Tourism Division spokesperson Tracey Berry said one area stands out above all others.
"I'd say the foliage is the biggest attraction," she said.
She said won't know until much later if conditions affecting this year's fall color display affected tourism in the state.
Back at the Conservation Department, Bruce Palmer said the number of inquiries his program gets about the trees in the fall stays pretty high.
"We get calls from all over the country," he said. "People plan their whole vacations around the time the leaves are turning."
It's safe to say Palmer hopes people will have more time next fall to indulge in the beauty of leaves before they blow away, but he's also realistic.
"It's tough to second guess mother nature."