Why leaves change their color

I'll explain why leaves are change their color and why they are falling off the trees faster this year.

Posted: Oct 5, 2020 5:52 PM

A lot more red, orange, and yellow outside. We are almost at peak fall foliage for the Mohawk Valley. Let's explain why the leaves change their color.

Take some time to go on a stroll through the woods and enjoy the fall foliage. It's only here for another couple of weeks. As the days get shorter and nights get longer heading into fall, the leaves are changing color.

The Consumer Horticulture and Plant Science Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension, Mrs. Holly Wise, says "We're getting shorter daylight, so that will cause the trees to stop the production of the chlorophyll." Without chlorophyll the leaves begin to change color. The cold nights we've been having are accelerating this change. Mrs. Wise says "The cold temperature will stop the chlorophyll. Chlorophyll gives us a green in the leaves. And there's also the carotenes and xanthophyll pigments that are masked from the green pigment. They're hidden from the warmer temperature days. But once it gets cold, the chlorophyll will break down and stop and then we're seeing all of the other pigments come out."

You may notice that not every tree is the same color. Some turn from green to either red, orange, or yellow. Mrs. Wise says "It's all their makeup and what kind of pigments are in their leaves. Like some of the maples show off more red colors, others show off more yellow. It's all the type of tree and its makeup."

The reason why the leaves are changing color faster and falling off the trees early this year is because of the cold nights. Mrs. Wise says "We have seen kind of earlier changes because we did have that cold snap, where we had frosts and freezes in several areas of our county." And the unsettled weather we've been having is causing the color of the leaves to be brighter. Mrs. Wise says "We're kind of having some dreary days and a little more rain this end of September, early October. And it will bring out more of the reds and the oranges of the leaves as we're seeing now." But the best viewing conditions are when it is sunny outside.

But eventually all of these leaves will turn brown as they fall off the trees and pile up on the ground. Get outside and enjoy the fall foliage while it lasts. But also, grab the rake. Because you're going to be needing to clean up this mess in your backyard pretty soon.

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