As the days become shorter, we’re reminded that nature gives us a wonderful, if brief, consolation prize: the variety of fall foliage makes autumn the most vibrant time of year. But did you know that shorter days help trees prepare to change color? We talk about the splendor of the season, but what about the science?
Here are some fun facts about fall foliage:
The length of time that a plant receives sunlight (also known as the photoperiod) is what starts the chemical changes in trees leading to bright hues like golden amber, deep crimson and majestic purple. This change starts just after the longest day of the year, June 21.
As summer brings on warmer days, anthocyanin (a sugar-based pigment) is produced in the leaves, which is then trapped beneath layers of green chlorophyll. Once fall begins, deciduous trees rest from photosynthesis and the cool, crisp days of autumn help release bright anthocyanin pigments.
New England is famous for its spectacular landscapes, but the most varied and longest lasting colors can be found in the southern Appalachians.
And did you know that placing a mask over any part of a leaf before it turns red will prevent it from completely changing color? Bright sunlight is essential to the production of red anthocyanin, and only exposed parts of the leaf will fully turn color. The rest will turn yellow, which is why some trees with thick foliage will reach a myriad of yellow to deep crimson.
While there’s never a need for an excuse to be outdoors, taking in the season’s colorful backdrop with a hike or a fall bike tour is high on our list of things to do. But before you venture out for some good old-fashioned leaf peeping, make sure to dust off your fall foliage identification skills:
How will you make the most of autumn foliage? Share with us in the comments below.