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Illinois hunting and fishing

Oak and hickory leaves put on a show at Carpenter Park, a state nature preserve near Springfield. Photos by Chris Young

Do you really know why leaves change color?

October 13, 2011 at 11:09 AM

GATEHOUSE NEWS SERVICE

Colors of fall:The reason for the season’s hues

GateHouse News Service

Pigments help determine the color of human skin as well as the skin of plants. And colors can change - in plants, people and some animals.

Here is a look at the various hues you’ll be seeing on leaves this fall.

GREEN - Chlorophyll

  • Gives leaves their green color and is instrumental in photosynthesis.

  • Trees store their sugars (made during photosynthesis) in winter.

  • Chlorophyll is produced less and less in the fall, as daylight decreases and temperatures fall.

    YELLOW, ORANGE, BROWN - Carotenoid

  • Contributes yellow, orange and brown to bananas, buttercups, carrots, corn, daffodils and more.

  • Always present in leaves.

  • These colors becomes more pronounced as chlorophyll’s “green” impact decreases.

    RED, BLUE, PURPLE - Anthocyanins

  • Year-round, this pigment gives cranberries, red apples, Concord grapes, blueberries, strawberries and plums their color.

  • Warm, sunny days and cool (but not freezing) nights spur the production of anthocyanins, which is made from the sugar in leaves.

  • Anthocyanins’ shades only emerge in the fall.

    YELLOW - Xanthophyll

  • The same pigment that gives egg yolks, human plasma and some leaves a yellow color.

  • Works with chlorophyll to harness light’s energy for photosynthesis.

  • Most of the year, the yellow color is overshadowed by the green impact of chlorophyll.

    BROWN - Tannin

  • Compound found in most plant parts; helps plants resist decay.

  • Can be extracted and used to soften and preserve leather.

  • Other colors break down, yet tannin remains, which is why most leaves turn brown before falling.

    Sources: U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. National Arboretum

    Illinois hunting and fishing

    Sassafras

    Illinois hunting and fishing

    Colorful border between prairie and oak/hickory forest at Carpenter Park.

    Illinois hunting and fishing

    Paw paw

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