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Why Do Leaves Change Color in the Fall?

In this article from Angie's List, Natascha Batchelor, district manager of Davey's Cape Cod office, tells readers about the science behind leaves changing color in the fall. 

Posted: September 11, 2015

Soon enough, summer trips to the beach and refreshing lemonade will be replaced by autumn’s cool breeze, football games and pumpkin lattes. But the real sign fall is here is the brilliant foliage — the most beloved sign of autumn. Bright green leaves transform into browns, buttery yellows, deep reds and vibrant shades of orange. 

The science behind fall foliage

Many believe that cool weather alone causes leaves to change color. While temperature can dictate intensity, it’s just one of the factors that play a part in painting a striking fall landscape. Changes in rainfall and shorter days also affect fall leaf colors.

During the spring and summer, leaves are busy creating the foods necessary for the tree’s growth. But in fall, leaves reduce their food-making process because of changing temperatures and the amount of sunlight. Chlorophyll, the chemical that gives leaves their bright green color, begins to break down and disappear.

Carotenes, the substances that gives leaves their yellow and orange hues, are present in leaves throughout the growing season. The larger amount of green chlorophyll masks the colors of carotenoids until fall’s arrival when chlorophyll production wanes and other pigments get their chance to shine.

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