Why leaves change color in the fall

The spectacular fall colors that we will observe in the next few weeks will be thanks to the cooler temperatures, right? Well, sort of. Here's the science behind why fall provides one of the most beautiful landscapes of any season.

As our days become shorter and we see fewer and fewer hours of daylight leading up to the winter solstice, the amount of chlorophyll, or sugary substance that gives leaves their green appearance, begins to dwindle in supply. Chlorophyll is produced using energy from the sun. The less energy it receives, the more sparse it becomes. As the production of this substance grinds to a halt, the leaves begin to show their natural shades of yellow, orange, and red.

Interestingly enough, scientists believe there may be another reason why the leaves turn such vibrant colors. Some theories suggest that the bright colors warn insects that would otherwise eat the leaves or try and lay their eggs on them, that the leaves themselves are nearing the end of their lifespan on the branch and no longer provide the nutrients or the security the insects are looking for. Who knew!

At the final stage, the tree will begin preparing itself for the bitterly cold temperatures that lie ahead by sealing off the base of the leaf stems, effectively creating a scab and causing the leaves to fall to the ground. These discarded leaves serve a new purpose during the winter and spring months as they are used to fertilize and protect the tree.

Mother Nature is truly amazing!

Meteorologist Andrew Stutzke

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