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 appear, other changes are taking place. At the point where the stem of the leaf is attached to the tree, a special layer of cells develops and gradually severs the tissues that support the leaf. At the same time, the tree seals the cut, so that when the leaf is finally blown off by the wind or falls from its own weight, it leaves behind a leaf scar.
Most of the broad-leaved trees in the North shed their leaves in the fall. However, the dead brown leaves of the oaks and a few other species may stay on the tree until growth starts again in the spring.
In the South, where the winters are mild, some of the broad-leaved trees such as magnolias and hollies are evergreen; that is, the leaves stay on the trees during winter and keep their green color.
Evergreens don’t change because their leaves have a thick wax covering that protects the chlorophyll (green) in the leaves.
Boy, isn’t nature fascinating?
So why have I shared these facts with you this morning? Ecclesiastes 3:1 says: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”
Like the ever-shifting seasons, change in inevitable in this life. We know this not only through personal experience, but the Bible talks about a changing world full of trials and battles large and small. But if you’re anything like me, when I study God’s creation I am filled with hope and reflection.
A thought for us to ponder on today: will we equip ourselves with the spiritual “food” necessary to navigate change with grace and assurance? When trying times display our true colors, will they be as beautiful autumn leaves?
Let’s turn to a few verses full of spiritual nutrition:
2 Corinthians 4: 16-18 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Philippians 4: 6-8 “Be anxious for nothing, but in every situation, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.”