Why do leaves turn yellow, red, purple and orange during autumn? As children, most of us heard answers that didn’t quite compute. So before you pass along any incorrect data, take a few minutes to check your version versus ours. Trees get their first signals from temperature change and shorter daylight hours. The combination of cooler nights and shorter days causes cells to grow in the abscission layers between the leaf and stem.
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This growth cuts off the flow of water and nutrients to the leaf. During the spring and summer, leaves are green because they contain the pigment, chlorophyll. However, other pigments are also present in the leaf, and as the chlorophyll breaks down during the fall months, the leaves get a chance to show their true colors. Pigments like carotenoids and xanthophylls show yellow and brownish colors. Trees high in sugar, like Sumac and Sugar Maple, produce anthocyanin in the fall. This pigment shows a deep red, but then breaks down again, turning the leaf yellow. When the weather has been abnormally dry, fall color is significantly reduced because the parched leaves cannot produce anthocyanin. Well, that’s the story. Hopefully we’ve helped all the perplexed parents out there who will eventually be asked this inevitable question by inquisitive youngsters! As for why the sky is blue…you’re on your own!
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