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Fall colors

Fall colors on display near Ashland (top left), at Pioneers Park in Lincoln (top right and bottom left) and at Mulhalls Trees near Gretna (bottom right) last week.

Luann Finke walked outside this weekend and said: “Boy, isn't it radiant.”

Thanks to relatively calm weather this fall and a combination of bright, warm days with cool, long nights, the foliage in Lincoln is putting on a show.

“I think it's been one of the best falls for some time,” said Nancy Furman, director at Pioneers Park Nature Center.

Across Lincoln, the city's more than 125,000 species of trees are flashing their yellows, purples, oranges and reds, creating a vibrant contrast on the landscape.

A warmer-than-normal September and cooler-than-normal October averaged out to a more mild autumn thus far, said Barbara Mayes, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Valley.

The first freeze came late. The average record was Oct. 5, but this year, it was Oct. 17. Snow hasn't fallen yet, unlike in 1997, a record year, when 13 inches accumulated in October.

“Our first freeze in Lincoln arrived quite a bit later than normal,” Mayes said.

Because heavy snow and rain and freezing temperatures have been minimal to nonexistent this fall, the trees haven't killed and dropped their leaves.

Longer, cooler nights in fall trigger the biochemical process in trees that changes their leaves' colors, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

When night length increases, trees slow down production of chlorophyll, a molecule they use for energy that also gives leaves their green hue. As production slows and stops, the remaining chlorophyll is used up, and carotenoids and anthocyanin show.

Those are the substances accountable for the fall color.

Lower temperatures signal to trees that winter is on the way, which prompts trees to start closing off veins that carry liquids to the leaves. This prevents damage from freezing temperatures.

In years past, cold snaps or prolonged freezing temperatures force the trees to drop leaves quickly, cutting short the color display, said Mark Canney, a park planner for the Lincoln Parks and Recreation department.

But that wasn't the case this year. Trees waited until this weekend to do their first major shedding, and there still are plenty of leaves left.

“It looks like our odds are still good here to have warmer-than-normal temperatures," Mayes said.

Aside from neighborhoods, public parks provide a perfect opportunity to stroll.

The yellow on honey locusts pops against the dark evergreen colors at Pioneers Park, Canney said, and the gold sycamores at Holmes Lake are among his favorites.

But the trees aren't the only character in the autumn show.

Perennial plants and ornamental grasses are changing colors, too, and those can be just as vibrant as the trees, Canney said. Find those at the new Union Plaza and Antelope Valley Parkway, or at Sunken Gardens and Rotary Strolling Garden at Capitol Parkway and 27th Street.

It's also a good time to prepare trees for the colder months ahead. Luann Finke, who owns a garden center and nursery, says the first item on the list should be giving them a good soak. 

“That's the number one thing to get your trees ready for winter,” she said.

And now is a good time to get an idea of the full potential of trees and perennials if people are looking to plant.

Fall and its falling leaves trigger the senses, Furman said — the crunch, the smell, the colors.

“I just think people really need to get outside and enjoy it.”

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Reach Jourdyn Kaarre at 402-473-2655 or jkaarre@journalstar.com.

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