The Science of Spectacular Tree Color

If you remember anything from your high school science class, you probably know that leaves change color in the fall because trees stop the photosynthesis process. When trees go dormant, chlorophyll production stops and the bright green color fades to reveal the red, yellow, orange, and brown hues that were hidden. The tree seals off its leaves one by one, protecting itself from the harshness of winter and kicking off a season of Alabama landscape maintenance.

Color Variations

leaf colorWhen the chlorophyll bleeds from the leaves, it reveals the carotenoid—the rich yellow and orange tones—that were masked by the bold green of summer leaves. Trees produce anthoyanin to recover nutrients from the leaves before they fall, giving trees a vibrant red hue. Decidious trees known for their lush gold, rust, and scarlet tones include maple, birch, hickory, aspen, poplar, oak, and gum. But the stunning array of crimson foliage we see in Alabama trees during the autumn season is dependent on more than just species.


Drought, heavy rain, windstorms, and freezing conditions often strip trees of their leaves before we can enjoy the beauty of their autumn hues. Temperature and cloud cover affect leaf color more directly. Warm, sunny days and cool nights provide the perfect conditions for rich fall leaf color. The abundance of sun and low temperatures breaks down the green chlorophyll more quickly, revealing the warm pigments below. Moderately cold nights increase anthoyanin production, making the russets and plums more vibrant. Cool, dry autumns preceded by hot, wet summers create tapestries of color so bold that the foliage almost seems fabricated. Enjoy the crisp fall air by hiking through a display of fall plumage or enjoying an evening bonfire.

As a premiere Alabama nursery, we’re fascinated by the science of trees and leaves. For more information on tree care, fall color, or landscape maintenance, call 3am Growers.

photo from flickr

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