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Why do leaves change colors in the Fall?

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Kids and autumn leaves falling. © Artisticco LLC

What happens inside the leaf?

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Think of leaves as being like little solar panels for trees. Just as solar cells use light to produce electric energy, leaves use light from the sun to produce food for trees. This process is known as photosynthesis, which means “to put together with light.” When light enters the leaf, a special part called a chloroplast (klo-ro-plast), uses the light to change carbon dioxide and water into breathable oxygen and a sugar called glucose. Inside the chloroplast is a chemical called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is very important, because it is the chemical that allows photosynthesis to take place, and it gives leaves their green color.

What happens when the weather starts to change?

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When autumn comes and winter is on its way, you’ll notice that it doesn’t stay light outside nearly as long as it did during the summer. That means that the leaves don’t get as much light as they used to, and the amount of chlorophyll starts to decrease.

Remember, chlorophyll is what gives a leaf its green color, so as there is less chlorophyll, the leaves loose their strong green color.

Where do the colors come from?

There are always small amounts of other certain colors in every leaf, so when the green starts to fade, the other colors start to become visible. Some of the colors that might hide in leaves until fall are browns, yellows, and oranges (the color, not the fruit!). Colors like reds and purples are made by chemical reactions inside the leaf.

What do the colors mean?

Yellow maple leaves
  • Brown: The leaf is dying or already dead.

  • Yellow and Orange - These colors are made by chemicals called carotenoids (keh-rot’n-oids’). These are always present in small amounts, but they become more visible when the green color starts to fade.

  • Red and Purple - These colors are made by chemicals called anthocyanins (an-tho-SI’ah-ninz). These are formed by chemical reactions that usually take place as the weather starts to change in the fall. Leftover food (glucose) in a leaf can also make a leaf look red.

Brown Leaves - Copyright Films for Christ Red, Yellow, and Orange Leaves - Copyright Films for Christ Red Leaves - Copyright Films for Christ

All of these colors can combine to form even more colors. That is why you might see so many different colors on the trees in your yard, or even on a single tree.

Beauty In Creation

It’s a lot of fun to see how God did so much more than just make things work; He made them look good, too! Watching the leaves turn colors in the fall is just one example of the wonderful beauty that God created here on Earth.

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Amazing Facts

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Did you know?

When you breathe, you take in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. When a tree “breathes,” it takes in carbon dioxide and releases oxygen. Isn’t it cool how God made it so that trees and others plants use the air that we breathe out? Then they produce the air we need to breathe in!

Did you know?

A chemical reaction is when one or more chemicals combine and change to form other chemicals. Photosynthesis is a chemical reaction. It changes the chemicals water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and sugar (glucose).

Did you know?

Glucose is a simple form of sugar. It’s actually one of the same kinds of sugar that you and I like to eat! You see, even trees have a sweet tooth!

Did you know?

Both light and plants were created by God, the Great Designer. The Holy Bible reports that in the beginning, “God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light… Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind’… And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:3-12).

Learn more…

God’s Story Online
The Rainforest: People, Animals and Facts
The Great Dinosaur Mystery Online
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Author: David J. Sheley, Films for Christ.

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