Why do leaves change color?
The end of summer may be a bummer, but the beauty of fall foliage helps
make up for the colder weather. As the days grow shorter, leaves burst with
But have you ever wondered how and why leaves change color? You may be
surprised by the science behind it. Here, we’ll explore the basics of nature’s
greatest color show:
Typically, leaves change color in the autumn. It’s during that transitional
period between summer and winter when leaves begin to deepen and darken
in color, turning from green into a mix of red, yellow, orange, and even other
colors such as purple. The peak time for fall foliage is usually in October,
though no two seasons are identical.
While the leaves actually change color in the fall, the process that leads to the
color change starts much earlier.
During the spring and summer, those little leaves are prepping for their
colorful act. This process involves the leaves’ many chlorophyll cells, which
are responsible for giving them their vibrant green color. The chlorophyll
absorbs energy from sunlight and converts it to nutrients.
The leaves also contain color pigment, which might be yellow or orange
thanks to carotene or xanthophyll. But during the warmer months, these colors
are covered by the green from the chlorophyll.
As the fall begins to come around and the weather gets cooler and the days
get shorter, a tree’s food production process starts to slow down.
Chlorophyll subsequently begins to break down, and the green color fades
from the leaves, revealing the additional color pigment that had previously
been hidden. It’s like the big reveal at the end of a makeover show.
The leaves are rarely just one single color, though. Additional chemical
changes can create variances and beautiful gradients of color within the
Variables such as weather, amount of daylight, and rainfall will affect how long
the fall foliage lasts and the intensity of the color. For instance, early frost can
reduce bright reds in leaves, and rainy days can increase the intensity of the
Here’s something that you may not know: not all trees will lose their leaves in
the fall. It’s primarily deciduous trees that lose their leaves.
Conifer trees, on the other hand, aren’t so quick to change and drop their
leaves. This includes trees such as pine, spruce, and cedar, which are
“evergreen,” meaning they stay mostly green year-round. Sure, they’ll drop
some needles, but it’s nothing quite as dramatic as the fall foliage show that
their deciduous cousins put on annually.
The phenomenon of leaves changing color is a joy to behold each fall season.
Now that you understand what makes leaves change color, be sure to get out
there and enjoy the relatively short season of fall foliage while it lasts.
Billi J. Taylor
Jefferson Real Estate