A color palette needs pigments, and there are three types
that are involved in autumn color.
- Chlorophyll, which gives leaves their basic
It is necessary for photosynthesis, the chemical reaction
that enables plants to use sunlight to manufacture sugars
for their food. Trees in the temperate zones store these
sugars for their winter dormant period.
which produce yellow,
colors in such things as corn, carrots, and daffodils, as
well as rutabagas, buttercups, and bananas.
which give color to such familiar things as cranberries,
apples, concord grapes, blueberries,
cherries, strawberries, and plums. They are water soluble
and appear in the watery liquid of leaf cells.
Both chlorophyll and
carotenoids are present in the
chloroplasts of leaf cells throughout the growing season. Most
anthocyanins are produced in the autumn, in response to bright
light and excess plant sugars within leaf cells.
During the growing season, chlorophyll is continually being
produced and broken down and leaves appear green. As night
length increases in the autumn, chlorophyll production slows
down and then stops and eventually all the chlorophyll is
destroyed. The carotenoids and
anthocyanins that are present
in the leaf are then unmasked and show their colors.
Certain colors are characteristic of particular species. Oaks
hickories, golden bronze; aspen and yellow-poplar,
dogwood, purplish red;
beech, light tan;
and sourwood and black
Maples differ species by species-red
maple turns brilliant scarlet;
sugar maple, orange-red;
maple, glowing yellow.
Striped maple becomes almost colorless. Leaves of some species
such as the elms simply shrivel up and fall, exhibiting little
color other than drab brown.
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