Even though Fall is still a week away, you may have noticed that the leaves on some trees have begun to change. Yes, summer is almost over in Central New York. But the beauty of the changing leaves is just beginning. So why do the leaves change color?
The shorter days and cooler nights of fall play a big role in the color change. Chlorophyll, the chemical that drives photosynthesis which produces oxygen and energy-rich compounds, begins to degrade, turns colorless, and allows other compounds of different colors to show up in the tree’s leaves. These colors were always there, but the chlorophyll covered them up!
So what compounds cause what colors? Where here they are: Sugar Maples turn orange because they contain carotene; Birch, Ash, Beech, Aspen, and some Oaks turn yellow because of xanthophyll; Red Maples, Scarlet Oaks, and Red Sumacs turn red because of anthocyanin. Brighter colors will occur if the late summer is dry and autumn has cooler nights with sunny days.
So there is your little biology lesson for the day. You now know what compounds cause what colors on leaves in the fall! Now get out there and enjoy the fall foliage, and while you are at it, impress your children with your new found knowledge! It’s a win-win!