The Real Reason Why Leaves Turn So Many Colors
Everywhere you look these days, fall is in fiery, full swing. But what makes trees' leaves turn into a dazzling, colorful spectacle every autumn? Death.
Yes, that's right. Fall is the time when leaves shuffle off this mortal coil as chemical changes lead to the vibrant display we know as fall foliage. "Leaves actually start out yellow. Chlorophyll, the chemical responsible for giving leaves their green appearance and converting light to energy during photosynthesis, just overpowers it in the spring and summer," explains Joanna Klein for the New York Times. When the temperature drops, daylight hours shorten, and weather occurrences like rain or drought happen in autumn, the chlorophyll within leaves decomposes and carotenoids, which have an orange or yellow color, appear.
Meanwhile, some leaves turn red because of a set of chemicals known as anthocyanins. "These chemicals produce a red pigment that can combine with green pigments left from chlorophyll and display different shades of red," writes Klein in the same piece. "How bright this red is depends on what species the leaf belongs to, its inherent genetics and the environment around it — including the forest, the tree, and individual leaves, said John Silander, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at The University of Connecticut." Who knew? For more on the scientific reason leaves change their color, read the full article here.
WATCH: Fall Growing Checklist
Currently, we're swooning over fall colors from A to V — ahem, we mean Arkansas to Virginia — and eager to do some leaf-peeping before the primetime passes. For inspiration, check out our state-by-state guide to the best fall color.
Want more foliage-hunting opportunities? Check out 13 destinations to see fall leaves in the South and make a vacation out of your adventure.