Autumn Signals Seasonal Changes — Even In Florida, Say UF Experts
GAINESVILLE — The calendar may say Sept. 22 marks the first day of fall, but Florida residents transplanted here from the north may need more convincing.
Although it’s not the kaleidoscopic scene of a northeastern fall, University of Florida wildlife and forestry experts agree that seasonal change does take place in the Sunshine State. The signals of autumn in Florida may be subtle, but they are abundant. Newcomers expecting the annual explosion of color, the bustling of small animals collecting their winter food supply and the sharp nip in the night air are urged to look for signs that are more inherent to the state.
Jon Johnson, associate professor of tree physiology at UF’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation, said color change in foliage does occur here, just not quite so lavishly.
“Aside from the lower humidity,” Johnson explained, “the most notable sign of the season is the color changes provided by the sweetgum tree. This is the one sign I always look for.”
The five pointed leaf of this native tree species of Florida will transform to orange, red, or yellow as fall progresses. The tree’s dropping of its prickly ball-shaped fruit may be its most distinctive contribution to the season, especially when stepped on by bare feet, Johnson added.
Other leaf changes to notice this time of year, according to Johnson, include the hickory, ash and Chinese tallow all turning yellow, and the shinning sumac, which will turn to bright red at the end of fall. Season watchers are advised to turn their attention more to the ground than to tree tops when looking for colors. George Tanner, associate professor at UF’s wildlife ecology and conservation department, said the prolific growth of goldenrods and blazing stars along the roadways in Central Florida offers a vibrant show of yellows and purples during the fall months.
“Our color change is mostly from understory flowers or plants that grow close to the earth,” Tanner explained. “To observe the major color change usually associated with autumn, you should probably start in northern Georgia.”
As the snowbird of the human variety returns to the state this time of year, so does the American kestrel, Tanner said. The shrill call of this small hawk-like bird is a unique characteristic of Florida’s fall.
“The resident bird’s call is not nearly as loud and aggressive as the migrating kestrel,” Tanner said. “This trilly call is one of the things I’ve always identified with fall.”
According to Ron Labisky, professor at the department of wildlife ecology and conservation, another fall ritual worth noting is the migration of the sandhill crane returning in October to their winter home. This large flock of migrating cranes, many of which spend the fall in the Paynes Prairie state preserve near Gainesville, marks the arrival of fall with significant sights and sounds.
“If you’re paying attention,” Labisky said, “you will hear the cranes’ trumpeting call similar to a bugle, as they circle about North Central Florida while they adjust to their winter home.”
Probably the most appreciated symbol of the fall season in Florida is the decreased usage of lawn mowers. Labisky explained that this time of year means a reduction in photosynthesis, shrinking the period between sunrise and sunset. This decrease in light means grass doesn’t grow at its same supernatural rate of summer.
- Karen Meisenheimer