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Thursday, October 28, 2010

The old question: "Why do leaves change color?"

This is more for me mudder than much else - every year the question of 'what makes the leaves change color' is asked and then it's forgotten. I now know some of the answer, so here goes.

Maine Sunday Telegram, September 26th 2010

Why do leaves change color?

Leaf colors come from color pigments in their cells that make green, yellow, orange, brown and red.

In a process called photosynthesis, the green pigment uses sunlight to turn water and carbon dioxide into sugar so the tree can grow. The green pigment works so hard all summer making food for the tree that it hides the other colors.

When fall aproaches, there is less sunlight and the weather gets colder. The tubes that carry water to the leaf close up. Without water, the green pigment stops working and the other colors appear. Leaves don't really "turn" a color, they just lose their green!

Some trees, such as sugar maples, make lots of sugar during sunny fall days. But as the nights get cooler, the sugar sap slows down. When sugar gets trapped inside a leaf, the leaf looks red, crimson or purple.

Leaves turn brown and dry when all the water and food is used up. The tree shuts down for the winter, storing energy to grow new green leaves in the spring.


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