The chemistry behind fall leaves

fall leaves
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Fall leaves are beautiful. Yellow, orange—and my favorite, red. But what’s happening? Here is a very brief and fun lesson on the chemistry behind fall leaves.

Pigments
Pigments are chemicals in leaves that produce colors in leaves. Chlorophyll, for instance, appears green. Chlorophyll is critical in the process of photosynthesis, which is energy from sunlight that helps to make sugars required for plant growth. This energy, of course, must be combined with water and carbon dioxide.

Autumn
Notice how much shorter days are now? The days are getting cooler, too. Well, this combination is less conducive for growth, which impacts the photosynthesis process.

Because of these factors, chlorophyll breaks down at a significantly faster rate, which begins to reveal other pigments like carotenoids (appear orange and yellow).

Anthocyanins
In our neck of the woods in the northeast where there red and sugar maples, we have the opportunity to see even more colors—red—and there are even some that are purple. These pigments are anthocyanins and they represent a response to external stress factors like a first frost. The more of these pigments that are produced, the more stunning “reds” we will see.

Of course, there are other factors that influence colors, such as the acidity and mineral content within the leaf cells. Like everything in nature, there is a balance.

Nature’s web
In nature, there is a vast web of life both above ground and beneath it. Fall leaves and their beautiful colors are just part of a natural cycle that hinges on numerous factors we see (and often do not see).

Have questions about leaves, the trees, this natural web, or organic lawn care? Want to talk with us and learn more? We are happy to talk to you about anything. We care and we want to get to know you.

Call Heidelberg Farms at (603) 501–9919. Together, we can make a difference today for our future tomorrow.