Each year people fortunate enough to live in areas with deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves), have the chance to be treated to a show of colors, that, if humans could produce, would be considered an act of great genius. But, since God, the Almighty Creator, is responsible, the glory of the fall colors enjoyed by man is attributed to "Mother Nature." Now that God's display of paint on the mountains has passed into the subtle tones of winter, let's look at the marvelous mechanisms God has created in the maples, oaks, and birches.
The vivid colors that are shown in the fall are the product of processes that occur much earlier in the year for the trees. As the trees awaken from the long dormant period of winter, the chemistry of the colors in leaves begins to develop as the leaves grow. The main light collecting color in the leaf is chlorophyll. This pigment absorbs light in the reds, yellows, and blues but reflects the green wavelengths of light, which is what our eyes see. So we see them as the deep greens of summer. Along side this main pigment, the plants produce other pigments that reflect reds, yellows, and purples, but they are not seen due to the thick cover of chlorophyll. Over the long summer, these pigments go about to carry on photosynthesis and send food to the roots of the trees for surviving the long winter and for regrowing new leaves next spring. With the shortening of the days and the cooling nights of fall, changes begin to occur that will show these other colors for the first time.
As trees begin the process of closing down the food-making processes readying for winter, a corky layer called the abscission layer starts to form across the stem of the leaf. This slows and then stops the flow of water to the food-making process. Without this necessary water, the chlorophyll quickly begins to break down. This causes the other pigments, the carotenoid and anthocyanins, to begin to show through as we are able to witness God's appreciation of things that are beautiful. These will continue to intensify until the leaves fall from the tree as the abscission layer weakens the stem.
The climatic conditions in which the trees grow their leaves help to determine how intense the fall color show will be. A warm, wet spring and a summer that is not too hot or dry will set up conditions that are right for a glorious paint job on the mountains. As fall moves on, warm sunny days and cool nights, as well as a good mix of rainy, overcast days, will intensify the fall color show.
Each tree has been blessed with a different amount of the combinations of pigments, which is why not all trees will have the same colors in fall. The maples have anthocyanins which, along with trapped food (glucose), produce the vivid reds and oranges, as well as the carotenoid producing the yellows we see. Oak trees have just small amounts of anthocyanins in them, so they have a little red color. Much of the browns in oaks are trapped waste products that reflect brown colors. The poplars show golden yellows; birches are bright yellow; dogwoods are red to purple; and hickories are golden bronze, just to mention a few.
So, God has truly proven again that His creation "... showeth His handiwork ..." as He paints the mountains bright with the colors of fall. Rt 1 Box 116A, Belington, WV 26250. email@example.com
Return to West Virginia Christian