Here's the Fascinating Science Behind Those Gorgeous Autumn Leaves

Here's the Fascinating Science Behind Those Gorgeous Autumn Leaves
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

The news: If you live in a deciduous forest region, you're probably being treated to the annual, autumnal feast of colors as the leaves around you change. But do you know about the scientific processes behind this seasonal phenomenon?

For those of you who need a refresher in middle school biology, here's a helpful infographic, courtesy of Compound Interest, which examines the four kinds of chemical compounds in plants that are responsible for their colorful transformation:

It's time for chlorophyll to step aside. As days get shorter and cooler, deciduous trees form what is known as abscission layers, blocking minerals and nutrients at the intersection of leaves and their branches. And while that's bad news for the green chlorophyll, it allows other colorful chemical compounds to shine.

"Chlorophyll breaks down with exposure to light, just as paint fades when exposed to the sun. In spring and summer, the leaf can replenish its stores of chlorophyll with no problem, but when the abscission layer forms, it doesn't have the materials to do so," the Week explains. "So the green of chlorophyll fades away in autumn, exposing other underlying colors in the leaf which result from other pigments."

And that means creating a beautiful array of color like this:

It was nice knowing you, chlorophyll. We'll see you on the other side. For now, let's enjoy the sumptuous display of autumn, before winter comes and everything fades away.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Eileen Shim

Eileen is a writer living in New York. She studied comparative literature and international studies at Yale University, and enjoys writing about the intersection of culture and politics.

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