A Vibrant Change

This week’s blog was written by Melinda J., a Bucktails alumni. Melinda has been interested in nature throughout her life, which is why she attended Wildlife Leadership Academy. She enjoys watching shows, reading books, and learning. Eventually, she would like to find a career in STEM.

One of my favorite times of the year is when the trees in my circle all change color, forming a wall of vivid reds and oranges and yellows. I’m fascinated by how the leaves transition throughout the fall, and this year I decided to document the changes in the color of the sugar maple in my front yard. Its leaves started changing color at the end of September and they reached their peak by the end of October.

A few leaves started turning yellow at the end of September.
The edges had become orange and red ten days later.

On September 30, I noticed the tiniest hints of yellow and orange peeking through the dense green. During the spring and summer, the days are longer and there is more sunlight, which allows the leaves to produce the green pigment chlorophyll. Once fall arrives, the leaves receive less sunlight, so they stop making chlorophyll and break it down instead. With the disappearance of chlorophyll comes the disappearance of verdant trees. Instead, other pigments can emerge, creating beautiful vermillion or golden colors.

Less than a week later, the whole tree was transforming.
All of the leaves were orange-red and many began to fall.

The other main pigments in the leaves are xanthophylls, carotenoids, and anthocyanins, which produce yellow, orange, and red respectively. Xanthophylls and carotenoids are present in trees year-round, but anthocyanins are only produced in fall to turn leaves red, purple, and brown. Different trees yield varying levels of these pigments, and some trees will vary in color between or within leaves. I love seeing the transformation of green to yellow to rich orange-red from carotenoids and anthocyanins in sugar maples. With each leaf, there is a slight difference in the color gradient that makes the tree seem dynamic or alive like fire. Although the weather may no longer be warm, it’s heartwarming to see the brilliant trees outside my house in the fall.

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.