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Why Do Leaves Change Color In The Fall?

Date:
October 16, 2007
Source:
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Summary:
Many of the colors we see in fall are always present, but normally they're hidden from view. The leaves of trees and other plants contain three main pigments: carotene, anthocyanin, and the photosynthetic pigment, chlorophyll, which captures the sun's energy to make food for plants. As the most abundant pigment, chlorophyll is what gives leaves their green hue in spring and summer.

When chlorophyll disintegrates rapidly, carotene shines through as the yellow in maple, aspen and birch leaves.
Credit: iStockphoto

Many of the colors we see in fall are always present, but normally they’re hidden from view, says UW-Madison Arboretum native plant gardener Susan Carpenter.

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The leaves of trees and other plants contain three main pigments: carotene, anthocyanin, and the photosynthetic pigment, chlorophyll, which captures the sun’s energy to make food for plants. As the most abundant pigment, chlorophyll is what gives leaves their green hue in spring and summer.

Another chemical in leaves, auxin, controls a special band of cells at the base of each leaf stem, called the abscission layer. During the growing season, auxin prevents this layer from fully developing and blocking the tiny, internal tubes that connect each leaf to the rest of the tree’s circulatory system.

In fall, however, cooler and shorter days trigger an end to auxin production, allowing the abscission layer to grow and cut off the circulation of water, nutrients and sugar to the leaves. When this happens, chlorophyll disintegrates rapidly, letting carotene shine through as the yellow in maple, aspen and birch leaves. Anthocyanin, meanwhile, provides the oranges and reds of maples, sumacs and oaks. When there’s less sun, anthocyanin isn’t as chemically active and leaves are more orange or yellow than red.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Why Do Leaves Change Color In The Fall?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 October 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071012104737.htm>.
University of Wisconsin-Madison. (2007, October 16). Why Do Leaves Change Color In The Fall?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 31, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071012104737.htm
University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Why Do Leaves Change Color In The Fall?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071012104737.htm (accessed January 31, 2015).

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