What Causes Fall Colors?

One of the most fascinating and enjoyable aspects of the fall season is the gorgeous display of colors. Every year, the American public treks miles and miles across the country to take in the fleeting, but beautiful foliage. Most of us spend the season taking in the vibrant reds, oranges, yellow, greens, purples and golds with little understanding of how those colors come to enchant us so.

A lot of what we enjoy during autumn is based on two ever-present elements of plant life.

The first is the presence of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a pigment responsible for the chemical reaction that causes photosynthesis, or the use of sunlight to create nourishment. Of course, it is this nourishment that is provides life to the plant. It is also the pigment responsible for the green coloring we are accustomed to seeing on leaves.

The second is the fact that, embedded within the leaves and well-hidden by the chlorophyll, are other existing pigments. These include carotenoids, which typically give off yellow, orange or brown hues, and anthocyanins, which typically give off red, purple or blue hues. With the onset of the season, these cleverly disguised pigments take center stage in one glorious display of autumn’s majesty.

So, exactly what causal role do these two elements play in fall’s colors? During the growing season, the presence of chlorophyll is constant, using sunlight to provide assistance in a tree’s ability to thrive. Exposure to sunlight, however, eventually breaks down chlorophyll, so it is always being replenished.

Although the onset of fall for mankind is generally marked by the brilliant colors so endeared to us, the onset of fall for plant life is marked by the shortening of the days. Shorter days mean that there is less sunlight for photosynthesis. To compensate, trees begin to gradually slow the production of chlorophyll, eventually ceasing its production altogether. Once production of chlorophyll stops, the underlying carotenoid and anthocyanin pigments become visible.

Many liken this process to a banana that is not quite yet ripe. It appears green at first. However, as the ripening process progresses, the yellow pigment we all associate with bananas becomes evident. The ripening process is very much like the cessation of the production of chlorophyll, and the eventual exposure of the yellow pigment is much like the exposure of the underlying carotenoids and anthocyanins in leaves.

Contact an Austin tree trimming specialist to assist you with properly and strategically pruning your landscaping trees to receive a most spectacular autumn display in your own backyard.

Although chlorophyll production stops during the fall and winter months, this does not mean that trees go without sustenance for these many months. Essentially, the trees will live off of reserves, an accumulation of food that was stored during the active summer months, during this period of dormancy.

For any additional questions pertaining to how autumnal changes affect your landscaping trees, contact an Austin tree care specialist to assist you.

About the Author: Andrew Johnson is the owner of Central Texas Tree Care, a leading provider of Austin tree service in Central Texas. Certified ISA Austin arborist services including: tree trimming, tree removal, tree care and oak wilt treatment. For more information on Austin tree service, please visit https://www.centraltexastreecare.com.

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