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The Fuss Over Foliage: Why trees change colors during Fall

Mid-Missourians may remember the vibrant colors changes that trees underwent last year. Our dry summer, followed by the relatively mild transition to fall help bolster a beautiful sight across the state as trees began to prepare for (what ended up being) a long winter ahead.

We’re already back to that time of year when trees begin to make that change once more.

Maybe you’re wondering why it happens.

How can the tree “tell” that it’s time to change colors and subsequently have leaves fall off?

Well, trees, while they aren’t sentient beings with thought processes to tell the “It’s time to go dormant”, do have a chemical response to shorter days and cooler nights that give them the go ahead to begin their yearly “winterization”– and the reds/yellows/oranges we see on trees… that’s the ACTUAL color of the leaf itself! The green we see in the summer is due to something completely different.

So what’s the deal, what keeps trees green? You might remember this one from grade school. It’s chlorophyll– a green pigment which is responsible for absorbing the sun’s energy and converting it to food for the tree to survive. As days become shorter, days and nights become colder, chlorophyll, which is fairly sensitive to the loss of light/heat, will begin to start breaking down.

It’s this shedding of the green pigment chlorophyll that exposes these leaves for who they TRULY ARE!!!… Which are actually pretty darn pretty if you ask me.

Another question you may have is: Why do the leaves fall off? Well, they don’t technically “fall off”… the branches they’re attached to actually work to “push” them off. This helps shed excess weight (which can be a problem if it snows to early– the extra weight with snow & leaves can easily snap branches) and gives space for new leaves to grow in the spring.

There are also certain conditions which can help fall colors pop even more vibrantly. A dry end to summer, along with mild & sunny fall days and cool nights, can help turn a drab leaf season into an enthusiastic one.

August thru the first half of October has featured slightly above average precipitation as well as plenty of beautiful fall days so far in October. Our odds to have another eye-catching leaf-watching season look to be in our favor this year.

Enjoy the beauty of fall this year and don’t forget to send us your pictures on our website: www.abc17news.com/share or by downloading the ABC 17 StormTrack Weather App!

Weather

ABC 17 News Team

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