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A Reason For The Season

September 18, 2012
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Golden branches bursting in front of deep, dense evergreen spikes.

Leaves in the freshest shades of carrot and deepest tones of pumpkin.

The auburns, russets and bronzes that set the stage.

And the cherries, crimsons, scarlets and rubies - considered by some to be the most desirable, jaw-dropping hues.

Fall. It's a magical time of year where beauty strikes from every angle and in almost every shade. Trees provide a glowing rainbow, a cornucopia of seemingly endless color.

While fall foliage delights leaf-peepers, there is a reason for the season, explains Davey expert and ISA Certified Arborist Greg Mazur, and it's founded in science.

Plants contain chlorophyll, which captures the sun's energy to make sugar and gives leaves their green color throughout the growing season.

sugar maple in fall - WEB

Leaves also contain carotenoids, which are easily masked by green chlorophyll until shrinking daylight and cooler temperatures signal fall's arrival. As chlorophyll disintegrates rapidly in autumn, carotene shines through as the yellows and golds in aspen and birch leaves, Mazur explains. Other leaves contain anthocyanin, which provides the reds and burgundies of maples and sumacs. Tannins produce the browns and russets seen in oak leaves.

What about those few select trees like the sugar maple with leaves that transform into brilliant shades of orange? Those leaves contain a unique combination of carotenoids and anthocyanin, Mazur explains.

Mazur says warm, sunny days mixed with cool, just above-freezing nights produce the brilliant hues associated with peak, perfect fall foliage, while cloudy days and warm nights bring drab colors.

Now that you know a little bit more about what produces fall's brilliant colors, get outside and enjoy the show!

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