Why Do Tree Leaves Change Color and Fall off During Fall?

Thursday, October 29, 2020 15:40:53 PM America/Los_Angeles

Fall foliage is one of nature’s most lovely sights. Every fall, cooler weather is accompanied by the colorful changing of leaves that has become synonymous with autumn. If you’re lucky enough, you live in a place where you can experience this yearly spectacle in its full glory. Northern regions of the U.S. are more likely to see a wide variety of colors that range from golden yellow to bright red. Others who live in the warmer southern regions can still catch sight of foliage in mountainous areas, though smaller pockets might still be spotted in urban and suburban cities. Wherever you live, foliage is undoubtedly a visual sign that cooler weather is upon us. So, what exactly causes leaves to change so drastically in the fall?

The primary cause of leaves changing color is the weather. You might have even witnessed this in your own home! Houseplants are no exception and their leaves will change color and drop as temperatures fall. Another cause of this fascinating change is daylight. As days grow shorter, chlorophyll pigments break down and take in less sunlight. This is why the intensity of foliage changes from year to year. How much the leaves turn and how soon they fall will depend hugely on that season’s temperatures. This also happens at a much quicker rate in northern areas because the weather shifts more drastically than it does in southern parts of the country.


Another important factor that comes into play is the type of tree. Oaks have a tendency to produce red leaves while maple trees will likely have orange leaves. Evergreens are named as such because they are capable of producing more chlorophyll year-round. Interestingly, the colors we see in the fall are not a complete change as might be assumed, but rather what remains after the “loss” of chlorophyll (aka the green pigment). 


The appearance of gorgeous jewel-toned leaves thus indicates that leaves are drawing their cells inward

to conserve energy as days shorten and they receive less sun. In turn, the trees must then drop the 

Photo by Clay Banks

leaves because they take nutrients from the tree without providing much in return. This cycle continues when spring brings longer daylight hours and trees can once again afford to grow leaves.   

It’s no surprise that people flock to see the majestic display that nature puts on every fall. Fall foliage is not only visually pleasing, it can remind us of nature’s wondrous life cycle. Next time you see leaves changing color, you might find yourself amazed with what the humble leaf has endured to help sustain a tree.


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