Return to Content

Why Leaves Change Color

Why Leaves Change Color
1 vote, 5.00 avg. rating (89% score)

Red Maple Leaves in Wakefield MA (user submitted)1. Leaves contain a green pigment called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is instrumental in photosynthesis, the process in which energy from sunlight (along with water and carbon dioxide) is used to make sugars that feed the plant. Over time, chlorophyll breaks down, but during the growing season it is continually replaced.

2. In autumn, the environment is less conducive to growth (primarily as a result of less sunlight and colder weather), and so photosynthesis is suppressed. Chlorophyll continues to deteriorate, but now not as much is replaced. After the first frost, the rate of breakdown increases dramatically.

3. Yellow and orange pigments called carotenoids, which have been in the leaf all along, are unmasked as chlorophyll levels decline.

4. In some tree species (red and sugar maples, for example), red and purple pigments called anthocyanins develop in late summer and fall, largely in response to external stress — such as the first frost.

5. This is fall. Leaves with a variety of chlorophyll levels, many with so little that all we see are the carotenoid and anthocyanin pigments, create a “mosaic of color on the hillsides.”

6. The more anthocyanins produced, the more brilliant the red. Shades of color are also influenced by how the pigments interact with other factors in the leaf, including the pH level and what minerals are present.

Source: Paul G. Schaberg, Ph.D., Research Plant Physiologist, USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Research Station.

Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

ultimate guide to fall Find more fantastic foliage articles and advice in Yankee Magazine's Ultimate Guide to Fall in New England.

Yankee Magazine Advertising

Bring New England Home
plus, get the Tablet Edition FREE!

In this issue: A Real New England Christmas

  • Vintage Decorating Tips
  • Mission to Maine's Islands
  • Norman Rockwell's Stockbridge
  • Bonus! Holiday Cookbook
Subscribe Today and Save 44%
No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

We reserve the right to remove or edit comments that are offensive or disrespectful to our readers and/or writers, cannot be verified, lack clarity, or contain profanity. Your comments may be republished by Yankee Magazine across multiple platforms.

Register Sign In

©2013, Yankee Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Yankee Publishing Inc., | P.O. Box 520, Dublin, NH 03444 | (603) 563-8111

2014-nov-gift-sub400x400
80th-anniversart-calendar600x350-order