For most of us, fall in Maine means we “ooh” and “aah” over all the pretty colored leaves.

But this year, maybe it’s time to do some informed oohing and aahing. Maybe leaf peeping would be a whole new experience if you knew what you were peeping at.

For instance, instead of just driving aimlessly out into the countryside, you can head for a muddy, swampy area to see the bright-red foliage of red maple trees. Red maples love wet areas, don’t you know.

And you can probably head there now, because if  you study up on trees, you’ll know red maples are among the first to turn color.

Or, if you know your trees, you can wait until November, go out in the woods, then look up in the sky to see the bright-yellow tip tops of poplar trees. The tips of poplar trees can stay bright yellow very late into the fall, tree experts tell us.

So maybe now you are beginning to see the perks of studying up on Maine’s leaf trees before heading out on a fall foliage trip.

According to the state Department of Conservation, the state’s 25 or so more common leaf trees turn varying shades of yellow, red, scarlet, brown or purple. Some turn earlier in the season; some turn later.

About half turn yellow, which is why most everywhere you go looking for fall color in Maine, you’re likely to see more yellow than any other color.

“In Maine, we mostly have mixed woodlots, where all kinds of trees are mixed together. So we won’t usually find one area all the same color,” said Peter Lammert, a 35-year veteran of the Maine Forest Service and the man charged with counting the rings on Herbie, New England’s tallest elm tree, when it was cut down in Yarmouth in January.

With help from Lammert and the Department of Conservation, we’ve compiled a tree-by-tree guide to Maine foliage. We’ve listed a couple dozen of the most common leaf trees in Maine, along with what color or colors they turn, when in the season they might turn, and where (generally) to find them.

But before grabbing our list and heading out, there are some parameters you should know about.

First, the leaves generally change color in the north of the state first, and later in the southern part.

Before heading out to an area, it’s a good idea to check the state’s weekly foliage reports online at MaineFoliage.com. The reports feature maps that divide up the state into zones, then rate the zones for that week, indicating whether foliage in a particular zone has low, moderate, high or peak color.

The reports are gathered from Department of Conservation workers stationed around the state.

Bill Ostrofsky, a forest pathologist for the Maine Forest Service (a division of the Department of Conservation), predicted in mid-September that for most of the state, the “height of the foliage season” would occur between this week and the second week of October. Columbus Day weekend in Maine is traditionally peak foliage time and peak peeping time. 

But if you know which trees you like, where they are and when they turn, you might not have to go leaf peeping in a crowd.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: [email protected]