Maple Leaf Coloration

It’s almost the day you’ve been waiting for! The air is fresh as you go outside. You notice that the world seems to be less green when you stare at the maple tree in your front yard and the row of oaks and birches that border the sidewalks in your neighborhood. You are witnessing vibrant oranges, rich yellows, and warm reds that form a canopy of fall season shades that brighten up the day.

However, this year’s fall foliage may be different depending on where you live. We’re talking about leaves that change color and/or fall later than usual, or perhaps fall off trees without changing color at all.

If enjoying breezy autumn afternoons admiring the tree landscape in all its glory is part of your fall routine, what you’re seeing might probably be underwhelming. How about those fall lawn care duties you usually fit into your weekend plans? Is it even worth taking your rake out?

The answer is, yes, because the leaves will most likely continue to change color and fall from the trees. But the delay will have an impact on when you complete those tasks. 

Have you ever wondered why this color-changing phenomenon happens? What exactly is the science behind all this?

What Gives the Plants Their Green Color? 

The leaves on the trees have actively helped the trees develop since they blossomed in the spring. Chlorophyll is a pigment that is found in all leaves. It is the most common pigment involved in photosynthesis. As a result, chlorophyll breaks down and reforms over the spring and summer seasons. It receives sunlight and converts it to food and energy for the tree. Chlorophyll is responsible for the green color of plants.

If that does not convince you, National Geographic explains that chlorophyll gives plants their green color because it does not absorb the green wavelengths of white light. Because that wavelength of light is reflected by the plant, it appears green.

What Happens to Maple Leaves When the Seasons Change?

The color shift normally occurs before the leaves of the tree fall off. What could be the cause of this?

Because of chlorophyll, a tree’s leaves are dark green in the spring and summer. This results in a brilliant green color that obscures the colors of other molecules present in the same leaves. Just before the fall maple leaf falls, deciduous trees break down chlorophyll into smaller molecules and send them to the roots for storage until spring. When new leaves emerge, chlorophyll is synthesized.

More About Color Changes

According to an article written by Wayne K. Clatterbuck, Assistant Professor in the University of Tennessee’s Agricultural Extension Service, leaves contain “chloroplasts,” which are disk-like formations within cells that make food for the tree. Photosynthesis is the process through which light energy is turned into chemical energy. Light is captured and consumed inside the chloroplasts to convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and glucose. Glucose stores chemical energy and is transformed into food. 

Chloroplast contains chlorophyll, the most essential tree pigment responsible for the green color of leaves. It absorbs sunlight and is therefore essential for photosynthesis. Chlorophyll becomes the dominating pigment when there is an abundance of sunlight.

Moreover, chlorophyll loses its edge as fall approaches, going inactive when daylight hours decrease and temperatures drop. Because the leaves can no longer create nourishment for the tree, they degrade chlorophyll and release orange and yellow pigments known as carotene and xanthophylls. To protect chlorophyll from harm, these pigments appear in leaf cells. Anthocyanin pigments, which are made from glucose in the leaf, are responsible for the vibrant reds. The sugar is kept in the twigs until the leaves reappear in the spring. In countries with seasonal weather, this cycle repeats itself every September.

Quantity and Quality of Color

Fall foliage and shades are one of those intangible things that make life fascinating, despite their superficiality. Color quantity and quality are affected by weather, sunlight, and soil moisture. According to the Department of Biology at Appalachian State University, trees are particularly sensitive to changes in the environment. Climate change can cause greater temperatures, more precipitation, and more cloud cover, all of which can affect the vibrancy, longevity, and splendor of fall tones. Higher temperatures caused by global warming would attenuate and postpone fall tones by producing physiologic confusion in the trees. 

The “synchrony of color development” is disrupted by the significant temperature differences, leading trees to change color at irregular intervals and for varying durations of time. Extreme weather and an increase in all types of precipitation result in heavy cloud cover, which is linked to low light conditions and a low photosynthetic rate. Glucose molecules are required to induce the synthesis of anthocyanins, which give leaves their coloration, and a drop in photosynthetic production diminishes a tree’s glucose reserves.

Reasons Why Maple Tree Colors May Not Change 

The colors that prevail in fall leaves vary depending on the tree species and the climatic conditions.

The intensity and longevity of autumn color are influenced by temperature and light. For this reason, chlorophyll may decay more quickly on rainy or cloudy days, intensifying the yellow and orange colors. 

The production of red-pigmented anthocyanins is favored by cold temperatures above freezing. The reds are affected by early frosts. Japanese maples are low-maintenance trees that stay small. It’s perfect for bringing color throughout the year! To put it another way, the weather is preventing your maple tree’s leaves from becoming red in the fall. 

Japanese Maple Trees during Autumn 

As the nights become longer, the calendar regulates the flow of color changes and the initiation of leaf drop. None of the other climatic factors, such as temperature, rainfall, or food supply, are as consistent as the length of night as autumn approaches. Cellular functions in the leaves start to decorate the scene with nature’s fall palette. 

In the autumn, sourwood, sumacs, dogwoods, and some maples, such as the Brandywine Maple, turn red or purple. Sugar maple leaves can be a vibrant orange color. Autumn Blaze Maple and October Glory are red maple trees with orange and red tints. October Glory is a great choice for a tiny tree that grows quickly. Ginkgoes, tulip poplars, beech, buckeyes, and hickories all have yellow foliage. Many oak species’ fall leaves are predominantly reddish-brown in color. The Japanese maple tree, with its year-round red leaves, is an excellent choice for adding color to your environment. 

The formation of red-pigmented anthocyanins is boosted by cold (but not freezing) nights and bright, sunny days. As a result, autumns with a lot of sunny days and chilly nights produce the finest red-colored leaves.

The Bonsai for You

For bonsai, the maple family is a perfect choice. It has vibrant colors, a distinctive leaf shape, quick growth, and a pale gray trunk. With the number of fine branches and being low-maintenance, everything falls into place with perfect clarity.

So, it is not your fault if your maple didn’t produce a beautiful display of fall foliage. It is just Mother Nature being Mother Nature. Those green leaves will transform the way you want them to when the weather permits!

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