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fall leaves on road

Fall brings many wonderful things: apple cider, pumpkins, football and the changing of the leaves. We take it for granted, the leaves changing color. In fact, if you live in a climate where the leaves don’t change (like I have), you feel like you’re missing out!

The changing leaves of fall are one of the most colorful displays in nature. I’m convinced that it’s nature’s way of throwing us a bone before going into the cold and colorless winter months. It may be the only reason we Ohioans can tolerate the miserable weather in the winter. Of course, that’s just my opinion.

Why do leaves change color? What causes bright green leaves to turn red, orange and yellow? Well, here’s some science made easy for you.

Changing colors

Trees, like other things in nature, prepare for winter by storing food or energy. Bears feast all summer to store fat for winter, squirrels hoard nuts and bees sip on their stockpiles of honey. Trees essentially do the same thing.

Trees — by trees I’m talking about deciduous trees, the ones that drop leaves — gather food with their leaves. Leaves contain little green cells called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the stuff that takes sunlight and carbon dioxide and turns it into food for the tree. That process is called photosynthesis.

When days become shorter, photosynthesis slows down. Without sunlight, it becomes harder for leaves to produce food so the trees shut down the chlorophyll.

changing leafAs chlorophyll production slows down, the green pigment starts to disappear and the leave begins turning orange and yellow. That orange and yellow color is from carotenoids. Though carotenoids are present in the leaves year-round, they only show their colors once the green chlorophyll begins to recede.

Some leaves also turn red. The red coloration is due to anthocyanins. This chemical doesn’t usually appear until after the tree begins shutting down.

Then the tree finally drops its leaves in a process called abscission.

Brilliance

Each year brings a different kind of autumn. Some years, the trees are so brilliant that they’re breathtaking. Other years, the leaves aren’t so bright and fall ends up a bit dull.

This difference in foliage is due to weather. According to the Ohio Chapter International Society of Arboriculture, warm sunny days coupled with cool, but not freezing, nights usually produces the more vibrant colors.

Enjoy

Ohio is recognized as a great place to see fall foliage, so get out there! If you’re really looking to snap some great photos try to get an elevated vantage point.

Other great states for foliage include New England, Maine, Vermont, Pennsylvania New Hampshire and Tennessee.

Fun with fall

♦There’s plenty of fun crafts you can do with your kids that involve leaves.

♦Check out The Weather Channel’s fall foliage map.

♦Also, here’s some tips for photographing fall foliage from the New York Times.

♦In case you’re still interested in some more science, Scott Shalaway’s column explains some more about falling leaves.

♦The U.S. Forest Service provides a guide to fall colors.

What are some of your favorite things about fall?

Here’s some responses from our Facebook page:

“Sleeping with the window open”

“The beautiful colors and the fresh air blowing through my house…”

“Apple cider”

“Pumpkin food!”

“What’s not to like?”

Will is Farm and Dairy's newest writer. He's recently moved to Lisbon, Ohio where he lives in a church turned community theater. He enjoys writing (of course), theater and hiking.
Will Flannigan
View all posts by Will Flannigan

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