Weather Academy: Why do leaves change color?

Published: Nov. 15, 2021 at 6:43 AM CST
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MONROE, La. (KNOE) - Now that we are in the season of fall, the leaves are putting on an impressive fashion show. So what better time than now to talk about why leaves change colors.

The leaves can change into a lot of different colors. This is due to different chemical pigments within the leaves. Whenever we have a lot of green leaves, that also means we have a lot of chlorophyll. Yellow is xanthophyll orange, kind of like carrots is carotene, and red is anthocyanin.

Our leaves and our trees are very sensitive to environmental changes. In the summertime, we have warm conditions and plenty of sunlight. The sunlight is being converted into energy in a process that we call photosynthesis. The leaves are filled with a lot of chlorophyll, and they’re nice green and very lush. But in the fall, we start to see less daylight and cooler weather. Therefore, the chlorophyll starts to break down, the leaf stops making its food which is the chlorophyll, and it leaves behind these other colors.

We typically see more of these bright colors whenever our late summer is dry and when fall has a lot of sunshine and cool nights. This could change some if we’re in a drought or if we get an early frost. Sometimes these leaves can drop before they even have time to change colors.

Let’s talk about a few leaf fun facts! The average mature oak tree has about 200,000 leaves. As these leaves fall to the ground, they dry out. About 360 dry leaves equal approximately one pound. Now in one tree, that means there could be 550 pounds of leaves. And in November, it’s typically a pretty wet month here across the ArkLaMiss. So when you add water to the mix, you can actually multiply that weight times by four, so it’s best to pick up those leaves before we get into more of the rainy part of this season.

I hope you enjoyed this explanation of why leaves change colors. Make sure to tune in next week because we will be doing a fun experiment to show these different chemical pigments within the leaves.

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