from the USDA Forest Service
If you are lucky, you live in one of those parts of the world where Nature has one last fling before settling down into winter’s sleep. In those lucky places, as days shorten and temperatures become crisp, the quiet green palette of summer foliage is transformed into the vivid autumn palette of reds, oranges, golds, and browns before the leaves fall off the trees. On special years, the colors are truly breathtaking.
How does autumn color happen?
For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that happen to trees and shrubs in the autumn. Although we don’t know all the details, we do know enough to explain the basics and help you to enjoy more fully Nature’s multicolored autumn farewell. Three factors influence autumn leaf color-leaf pigments, length of night, and weather, but not quite in the way we think. The timing of color change and leaf fall are primarily regulated by the calendar, that is, the increasing length of night. None of the other environmental influences-temperature, rainfall, food supply, and so on-are as unvarying as the steadily increasing length of night during autumn. As days grow shorter, and nights grow longer and cooler, biochemical processes in the leaf begin to paint the landscape with Nature’s autumn palette.