E. R. Hinman & Sons

A Burlington CT Lumber Mill

Forestry Insights (Our Blog)

Bye Bye Chlorophyll

October 9, 2013 Charlie Leigus

I am on a job site today in Scotland Connecticut. Everywhere I look, the view is quite spectacular. I have snapped a few images to share with you on my cell phone.

The fall colors this year are better than they have been in quite some time, as far as I can remember.

The forester in me began asking…  Why? Why is it more beautiful this year than last? Why are the reds and yellows more brilliant?

One answer is that in the absence of any major tropical storm or hurricane activity, the leaves have been able to hang on. We have not had an early killing frost.  Due to warmer and wetter conditions in the spring and early summer, tree root structures were well fed and thus, prolific leaf growth was made possible. Later in the summer and early autumn, it has been fairly dry and the sugar maples, especially, are making a lot of glucose. That is a key ingredient for red and purple leaves in fall color making.

We all know from our elementary science class that trees utilize sunlight and a chemical called chlorophyll to make food and sustain tree growth. The chemical chlorophyll in the leaves is what gives the leaves their green color.  In the fall, as the amount of available sunlight diminishes, chlorophyll production slowly halts. As this process occurs, other chemicals that are in the leaves but hidden by the abundance of chlorophyll are exposed to sunlight and we begin to see “the splendor” of autumn all around us.

The color spectrum ranging from bright red shades to deep purple foliage colors come from anthocyanin pigments. Brown foliage colors come from tannin. Other colors, which have been there all along, become visible when the chlorophyll disappears. The orange colors come from carotene and the yellows from xanthophylls.

The bottom line is that there is a complex dance of chemicals triggered when the available sunlight begins to diminish and what we interpret as “beauty” across the landscape was actually there all along.

Mother Nature just needed fewer hours of sunlight and cooler temperatures to begin the chemical process.

I hope you are taking a few minutes to enjoy the beautiful views that Connecticut trees are offering this autumn. I sure am. -Charlie