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Fall Leaves

Every autumn we revel in the beauty of the various fall colors God painted across the landscape. Did you know, the mixture of red, purple, orange and yellow is the result of chemical processes He designed to take place in the tree as the seasons change from summer to winter.

As many of you may know, tree leaves contain cells that create food for the entire tree. During the spring and summer the leaves serve as factories where foods are manufactured. Chlorophyll cells within the leaf are green in color. This extraordinary chemical absorbs energy from sunlight through a process call photosynthesis and is used in transforming carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrates-- better known as sugars and starch.

Even though green is what you see during the growing season, there are hidden colors in the leaves. Those are carotenoids. They're the same pigments that make carrots orange and corn and daffodils yellow. Well, most of the year these colors are masked by heavy green coloring due to high levels of chlorophyll through photosynthesis.

But in the fall, because of changes in the length of daylight and changes in temperature- there’s less energy for food-making. Chlorophyll breaks down, causing the green color to fade, allowing the yellow & orange carotenoids visibility-- giving trees as hickory, ash, birch, maple, sycamore, cottonwood, and sassafras a chance to show off their fall splendor.

The red and purple colors, however, aren't hiding in the leaves. They're newly created in the fall when sugars are made during warm days, then trapped in the leaves during cool nights. The trapped sugars change chemically into anthocyanin, which appear red and purple.

The more sunshine during the day, the more red is created. That's why hidden or shaded leaves will be less red than those that get lots of sun. Also, the redder the leaf, the more sugar that leaf is storing. (Which is why Maple trees are so vibrant.) If the weather is cloudy and the nights stay warm, there won't be as much vivid red in such trees as maple, sweetgum, oak, and dogwood.

Other factors affect fall color. Trees that don't get enough water during the growing season may drop their leaves quickly before they color. And an early frost will cause the leaves to die before they have time for a fall display.

As the fall colors a