Fall colors: what causes them?

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Fall colors are now starting to peak and some may wonder what exactly causes this to happen.

Why do leaves change color?

  • Mild fall temperatures and shorter days signal to trees that winter is coming.
  • In summer, leaves produce chlorophyll which is a pigment that causes the green color.
  • In fall, chlorophyll production stops revealing yellow and orange pigments that are underneath.
  • Yellow and orange pigments are called carotenoids.
  • In some species, fall triggers the production of red and purple pigments called anthocyanins.
  • Anthocyanins are a type of sugar that is absorbed into the tree to help it survive the winter.
  • Leaves fall from the tree when a layer of cells form at the base of the leaf.
  • These cells are called the abscission layer and cause the leaf to detach from the tree.
  • The intensity of fall color depends on cool, but not freezing, temperatures, sunny days, and water supplies throughout the year.

For more information call 417-874-2963 or visit extension.missouri.edu.

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