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Why Do Leaves Change Color?

We've asked around to see if people know why leaves change colors in the fall. Some of the answers we have received were:

"Because it rains less."

"Because it's getting colder."

"Because there's less sun."

"Because the trees die over the winter and come back to life in the spring."

It's time we figure this out once and for all, and to see if any of the above assumptions hold any value to what's actually happening.

The biggest thing we need to understand is there are a chemical process happening inside of the tree and that changes as the seasons shift from Summer to Winter.

The first thing we need to look at is that during the Spring and Summer there's a lot happening in the leaves that impacts the entire tree- they are making food.

To understand exactly how that is happening we need to first understand chlorophyll- where it is, what it is, and what it does. Chlorophyll is found inside the cells of leaves which gives them their green color. This chemical absorbs energy from the sun, which plays a part in the process of turning carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates such as sugars and starches that the tree will then feed off of. This is the process of photosynthesis.

But, even more is happening behind the scenes. The tree is also taking that energy from the sun and turning it into oxygen at the same time. As much as humans assume the world revolves around them, oxygen is actually just an additional perk for us as this is just a byproduct of the tree making its own food.

So back to the colors of the leaves.

What we don't notice or are aware of is that the leaves have additional chemicals in them that create the yellow, orange, red pigments all year long, but they are masked by the green chlorophyll pigment.

When Fall approaches our days get shorter, the days get cooler, and the trees stop their food making process. This causes the chlorophyll to break down, and based on what we've now learned, you can probably begin to assume what happens.

As the chlorophyll breaks down, so does the green pigment it causes in the leaves, allowing us to better see the additional chemicals and pigments that have been hiding in the leaves all long, like carotenes and xanthophyll. At this time other chemical changes may occur creating new pigments. Pigments also begin to mix and we find ourselves in a beautiful sea of yellow, red, orange, red, purple, and brown leaves!
Because the process of photosynthesis is dependent upon sun, water, etc. it also makes sense that temperature, light, and rain will all influence the Fall colors that we see.

So now when someone asks you, why do the leaves change, you will no longer have to guess or make assumptions! You can explain to them in detail how this beautiful occurrence all revolves around chlorophyll!
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