It’s that fabulous time of the year when everything goes orange. And yellow. And golden brown. Yes, I am talking about fall and the season that is full of spectacular outdoor colors. I must admit that the changing landscape and kaleidoscope of color is my favorite part of fall. Even more so than the cool crisp air, sweaters, piping hot beverages, and all else that comes along with this season of the year. One of my favorite trips was not a trip to the beach or an exotic overseas destination, but a fall New England excursion where the changing colors were the star of the show and the highlight of the whole trip.


Have you ever wondered what causes leaves to change color? I have! So, I set out to learn more. As part of my research, I discovered not only the answer to my question but a great resource through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Each year, the USDA Forest Service sponsors a Fall Colors webpage that shares information on fall foliage across the country – including where to see it and when. They have links to fall color photos, everything one might ever want to know about trees, outdoor safety, and even content that will appeal to kids. When browsing around, I found an answer to my question of “what makes leaves change colors” in the archives.


For most of us who are not scientists, the simple explanation of why leaves change colors in the fall will do. It boils down to three factors: leaf pigments, length of night, and weather. Pigments in leaves include carotenoids which produce yellow, orange, and brown colors, anthocyanin which produces red colors, and chlorophyll which produces green colors. Chlorophyll production slows down in the fall with increased night length and eventually stops, causing the other pigments – the reds, oranges, yellows, and browns – to be more prominent. Weather also plays a role with conditions that are present before and after the chlorophyll in the leaves starts to decrease, and temperature and moisture influence fall colors as well. The most vibrant, colorful fall seasons are usually preceded by a period of warm, sunny days and cool, crisp, but not-quite-freezing nights.
Check out the Fall Colors webpage to learn more. See more than one hundred scenic byways planned with fall foliage in mind that might just spur a scenic road trip. Find fun activities for the kids that are also educational. Or just get answers to questions your inner scientist is asking. There is so much to explore and if you aren’t already in the fall spirit, you just might be on your way towards it after spending time online learning more.


Source: United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. Fall Colors.