Fall Colors Guide in Iowa

by Emily Peterson

Fall is one of the most beautiful seasons in Iowa, as our natural landscapes slowly transform into a sea of red, orange, and yellow. In order to embrace the fall colors this season, we have provided a brief guide outlining information about Iowa’s trees. This guide includes information about species, leaf colors, and when you should be on the lookout for changing colors throughout the state.

Fall colors peak at different times according to where you live in Iowa. In northern Iowa, colors peak during the last week of September through the second week of October. In central Iowa, colors are at their peak starting in the first week of October and ending in the third week of October. Finally, in southern Iowa, fall colors are most likely to peak in the second week of October until the last week of October.

There are a few important terms to know when identifying tree species. In this case, we will be taking a look at leaf shapes. An oblong-shaped leaf is generally two to three times as long as it is wide, with sides that are parallel to one another. A lobed leaf has indents along the edges that dive inward and outward, forming a leaf shape that has curves and edges. A “lobe” refers to a singular indent on a leaf. Now that we’ve covered some basic terminology, let’s dive into the tree guide!

Common trees located in the state of Iowa include the following:

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)

Leaf shape: The Black Walnut leaf has one end that is distinctly pointed, while the other end is more rounded. The rounded base of the leaf slowly becomes narrower as it moves towards the pointed tip.
Fall color: yellow

front of a black walnut leaf


Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)

Leaf shape: The Bur Oak leaf has deep lobes, with a narrower base that gains significant width as you travel towards the tip of the leaf. There are several indents on both sides of the leaf that are generally somewhat symmetrical to one another.
Fall color: buff to yellow leaves

front of a bur oak leaf


Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos)

Leaf shape: The Honey Locust leaf is small and oblong. There are many leaves on one stem, with little space between each leaf. 
Fall color: yellow

front of a honey locust leaf


Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra)

Leaf shape: The Northern Red Oak leaf generally features 7-11 lobes, with a narrower base that becomes wider as you move towards the tip of the leaf. Lobes on this leaf are generally symmetrical, with pointed tips at the end of each lobe.
Fall color: red

front of a northern red oak leaf


Silver Maple (Acer saccharum)

Leaf shape: The Silver Maple leaf has five deep lobes on either side of the leaf. The leaf has a long pointed tip, with lobes that extend out on each side near the base of the leaf. Silver Maple leaves are fairly easy to identify, as they have a gray-ish tone on their underside.
Fall color: yellow

front of a silver maple leaf


Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

Leaf shape: The Sugar Maple leaf has 5-7 lobes on each side. The lobes at the base and tip of the leaf are shorter, while the lobes in the middle of the leaf are extended in length.
Fall color: red

front of a sugar maple


Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

Leaf shape: The Sycamore leaf is wide and large, with short, shallow lobes that are pointed at the ends. There are scattered teeth along the edges of this leaf.
Fall color: yellow-brown

front of a sycamore leaf