PLAIN THOUGHTS: Leaves of crimson, leaves of gold

Published 2:19 pm Monday, October 18, 2021

By Judith Hensley

I watch for the changing leaves like pet owners watch a pet for the delivery of new babies. Every year I start getting excited when I get the first whiff of fall in the air. That usually happens in late August.

How can it possibly be this late in October and still there is no significant color changes?  A cousin and his wife were scheduled to come for a visit last week. They tried to plan it for the peak color season in the region. Plans were canceled due to covid, but I’m glad they didn’t come and get disappointed by the lack of vibrant colors. In Michigan where they live, color has already arrived.

Going back to my days as a science teacher, I know that leaves are green because of the chlorophyll present in them. Trees in spring when leaves are first appearing and before chlorophyll takes over give a strong indication of what color they are going to be in the fall when chlorophyll is gone again.

Chlorophyll’s job within the plant is to absorb energy from sunlight. That’s it’s main job – to absorb light (sunlight). I find the chemical processes in the plant world be an amazing reflection of Creator God and His beautiful, integral designs within nature. Chlorophyll is what makes a plant/tree leaves look green. It takes sunlight and stores it as energy. Photosynthesis then takes place and converts the stored energy combined with carbon dioxide from the air and water, to form food for the plant. This type of food is a sugar known as glucose.

Because we live in a region where we have four season each year, deciduous trees have leaves that change color in autumn and then fall off during winter months. As the earth rotates, the hours of daylight on this side of the world grow shorter in the fall, as well as temperatures growing colder because of less direct sunlight. Evergreens keep their chlorophyll active all year long, absorbing sunlight and converting it to energy through their needles. These trees are called conifers.

Leaves actually have other pigments present in them besides the green chlorophyll. Because the green energy storing cells are dominant in the growing season, they cover up the other pigments. As chlorophyll begins to fade as the seasons change from summer to fall, the other pigments present in the leaves show up and show off.

As shorter daylight hours shrink and colder temperatures approach, trees actually put down a layer of cells between the tree branch and the deciduous leaves. This protects the tree from losing moisture and nutrients through its leaves during the winter. When the layer is complete, separating the leaf from the tree, the leaves fall off. This can happen at different stages of color depending on the tree species.

In our region, sycamores are among the first leaves to turn yellowish, then brown and fall off. All of the other trees fall at different rate, with oak trees usually hanging on the longest. Oaks are usually different shades of brown with hints of orange or even deep burgundy mixed with the brown. My favorites are the red maples, yellow poplars, and orangish varieties. I love to watch for the stage where leaves still retain green, but the other colors have begun to show up as well.

I’ve always heard that sunny days and cold nights will bring out the brilliant colors of fall. Some people, however, say that a moist warm fall will bring out the colors. Each year, I wait to try and figure out which theory is correct. This year has been moist and warm weather seems to have stuck around a bit longer. It will be obvious in a few days which way the leaves are going to turn.