It’s one of THE best perks of woodland ownership. Every autumn a master artist comes along and overnight converts your property into a priceless work of art. And she gives it to you for free.
But how does she do it, and where does she get the fabulous colors on her palette? We’ll give you a hint: There are just three pigments, and two of them have been in the leaves all summer—one is made during fall. Decreasing sunlight triggers each leaf to load its brush. Can you guess which colors come from each pigment?
Chlorophyll (green) is the most important of the three. Without the chlorophyll in leaves, trees wouldn’t be able to use sunlight to produce food.
Carotenoids create bright yellows and oranges in familiar fruits and vegetables. Corn, carrots, and bananas are just a few of the many plants colored by carotenoids.
Anthocyanins add the color red to plants, including cranberries, red apples, cherries, strawberries and others.
Chlorophylls and carotenoids are in leaf cells all the time during the growing season. But the chlorophyll covers the carotenoid – that’s why summer leaves are green, not yellow or orange. Most anthocyanins are produced only in autumn, and only under certain conditions. Not all trees can make anthocyanin.
For more science behind fall colors, visit The Wisconsin Fall Color Report.