The beautiful yellows, oranges, and reds are starting to appear, indicating that fall is here. Every year nature puts on a colorful show for us to enjoy. But why do leaves change?
“The color you see is actually the removal of green from the leaf. It’s the breakdown of that green pigment revealing a lot of colors that were already there like those yellows and those oranges are different pigments that are always there but just hidden,” said Christy Rollinson, a forest ecologist at the Morton Arboretum.
When it comes to red, there’s another reason. “Red is a special pigment called anthocyanin and it’s produced by the leaves in the fall to help aid in the breakdown of that green and the reabsorption of all the nutrients that the tree has kind of been keeping for itself so it can have a better head start next year,” said Rollinson.
The color of the leaves depends on the tree’s species and weather conditions. “This year the story is really about the drought we had. And it’s not so much as the drought we had in the summer, it’s the drought we had in the spring,” said Rollinson. “We’ve had some trees like our maples are turning a little early and not quite as vibrant as we see.”
But not to worry. With the Morton Arboretum’s 1,700 acres there’s still plenty of trees like oaks that are adapted to dry environments. “They’re probably going to be less affected by this background drought status than some of our other species,” said Rollinson.
When to See Fall Colors
There’s some of those shades to see at the arboretum now, but there’s still a lot of green. According to Rollinson, the peak time to see all the trees in full color will be mid to late October. For an idea of when you can catch a view of the leaves at their best at the arboretum, a park, or forest preserve – keep an eye on how vivid they are. Once they turn bright, they’ll be ready to fall. Being on the lookout and waiting for that full change to happen during the season is just part of the fun.
“Predicting when the leaves are going to change color or how bright they’re going to be is something even science hasn’t fully worked out yet and so each year is a bit of a surprise. So when they provide all of these colors that you didn’t’ know were there, it’s just so much fun.”
Every week, the Morton Arboretum releases a fall color report on their website.
Naperville News 17’s Aysha Ashley Househ reports.
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