why do trees leaves turn different colors in the fall
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The Splendor of Autumn Every autumn we revel in the beauty of the fall colors. The mixture of red, purple, orange and yellow is the result of chemical processes that take place in the tree as the seasons change from summer to winter. During the spring and summer the leaves have served as factories where most of the foods necessary for the tree's growth are manufactured. This food-making process takes place in the leaf in numerous cells containing chlorophyll, which gives the leaf its green color. This extraordinary chemical absorbs from sunlight the energy that is used in transforming carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrates, such as sugars and starch. Along with the green pigment are yellow to orange pigments, carotenes and xanthophyll pigments which, for example, give the orange color to a carrot. Most of the year these colors are masked by great amounts of green coloring. Chlorophyll Breaks Down But in the fall, because of changes in the length of daylight and changes in temperature, the leaves stop their food-making process. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellow to orange colors become visible and give the leaves part of their fall splendor.
At the same time other chemical changes may occur, which form additional colors through the development of red anthocyanin pigments. Some mixtures give rise to the reddish and purplish fall colors of trees such as dogwoods and sumacs, while others give the sugar maple its brilliant orange. The autumn foliage of some trees show only yellow colors. Others, like many oaks, display mostly browns. All these colors are due to the mixing of varying amounts of the chlorophyll residue and other pigments in the leaf during the fall season. Other Changes Take Place As the fall colors appear, other changes are taking place. At the point where the stem of the leaf is attached to the tree, a special layer of cells develops and gradually severs the tissues that support the leaf. At the same time, the tree seals the cut, so that when the leaf is finally blown off by the wind or falls from its own weight, it leaves behind a leaf scar. Most of the broad-leaved trees in the North shed their leaves in the fall.
However, the dead brown leaves of the oaks and a few other species may stay on the tree until growth starts again in the spring. In the South, where the winters are mild, some of the broad-leaved trees are evergreen; that is, the leaves stay on the trees during winter and keep their green color. Only Some Trees Lose Leaves Most of the conifers - pines, spruces, firs, hemlocks, cedars, etc. - are evergreen in both the North and South. The needle- or scale-like leaves remain green or greenish the year round, and individual leaves may stay on for two to four or more years. Weather Affects Color Intensity Temperature, light, and water supply have an influence on the degree and the duration of fall color. Low temperatures above freezing will favor anthocyanin formation producing bright reds in maples. However, early frost will weaken the brilliant red color. Rainy and/or overcast days tend to increase the intensity of fall colors. The best time to enjoy the autumn color would be on a clear, dry, and cool (not freezing) day. Enjoy the color, it only occurs for a brief period each fall.
Text prepared by Carl E. Palm, Jr. In some areas of the world, the weather changes in the fall, making the air turn cold. During this time, many leaves also change colors. Why does this happen? First let's think about why some trees drop their leaves before winter. In the winter, it would take a lot of energy and water for plants to keep their leaves healthy. But winter is cold, dry, and usually there isn't much sun (which helps give plants energy). So, instead of trying to keep their leaves, some plants drop their leaves and seal the spots on their branches where the leaves had been attached. How is this related to what makes leaves colorful? Leaves are colored by molecules called pigments. The pigment that causes leaves to be green is chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is important for plants to make food using sunlight. During spring and summer when there is plenty of sunlight, plants make a lot of chlorophyll. In autumn when it starts to get cold, some plants stop making chlorophyll. Instead, those plants break down chlorophyll into smaller molecules. As chlorophyll goes away, other pigments start to show their colors.
This is why leaves turn yellow or red in fall. The color change usually happens before the leaves fall off of the tree. Why might that be? It takes a lot of energy to make chlorophyll. If the plants break down the chlorophyll and move it out of their leaves before the leaves fall, plants save energy. The plants can reabsorb the molecules that make up chlorophyll. Then, when it's warm and sunny enough to grow again, the plants can use those molecules to remake the chlorophyll. That way the plants don't have to make chlorophyll from scratch. There are other pigments in leaves called carotenoids. Carotenoids are yellow and orange. Anthocyanins are other plant pigments that are only made in the fall. These pigments cause red, pink, or purple colors. Anthocyanins also protect leaves from being eaten or getting sun burned. So the different colors in leaves are caused by changes in the pigments. When the weather changes, some plants break down all the green pigment. This lets beautiful yellows, oranges, and reds come through in the fall. To learn more about how plants grow, try this link.
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