Fall color – What trees offer what color & Why?

The most common leaf colors of fall are red, yellow and orange and some trees can have several of these colors simultaneously as the season unfolds. Why do they turn color though? It’s an interesting concept that different tree types would change different colors as the weather changes? And why are they more vibrant in our area?

According to the US National Arboretum the color and it’s intensity has little to do with cool or warm weather but it has everything to do with the replacement of chlorophyll. So when the days are shorter and the nights are longer the plants can’t replace the lost chlorophyll as rapidly, and the pigments stored in the tree and leaf for growth and winter begin to take over inside the leaf.

So why are the colors more vivid in the Cadillac Area than those down state? Our nights are actually darker, especially in the National Forest just West of Cadillac due to low population and development density. With darker skies, the chlorophyll has even less chance of replenishing itself.

The weather does impact the color tour season, but in a different way than people think. When we are granted a warm fall with little precipitation, the leaves will stay on the trees longer. But when the autumn storms and winds shift, often it can make the color tour season shorter by the wind and heavy rains actually pulling them off.

Typically in the Greater Cadillac area we start to see a few spots of color in mid to late September, with peak color blooming around the second and third weeks of October. Depending on the weather it can last into the end of October and even the beginning of November. So, watch the weather forecast for updates as well as our Facebook page and website for timely updates!

Green to Red or Orange or Yellow – why?

The leaves start the summer season out as green and this is because of the presence of a group of green pigments known as chlorophyll. When these green pigments are abundant in the leaf’s cells during the growing season, they mask out the color of any other pigments that may be present in the leaf.

But when autumn comes the weather and daylight changes, and it destructs the chlorophyll replacement process. This takeover of green pigments allows other masked colors to be exposed.

Trees with Red Leaf Color

Red is produced by leftover ‘food’ in the leaf. The food is transformed into red or anthocyanin pigments. These red pigments also color cranberries, red apples, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, and plums. Popular trees in the Greater Cadillac area that turn red include maples, some Oaks (red, pin, scarlet & Black) and dogwood.

Trees with Yellow and Orange Leaf Color

As the chlorophyll is destroyed it unmasks the orange and yellow leaf colors, or carotenoid pigments. Deep orange is a combining of the red and yellow color making process. These yellow and orange pigments also color carrots, corn, canaries, and daffodils, as well as egg yolks, rutabagas, buttercups, and bananas. Popular trees in the greater Cadillac Area that turn yellow and/or Orange include Hickory, Ash, some maple, some oak, yellow-poplar and birch.

Supporting Fall Color Materials Courtesy of:   www.forestry.about.com, http://www.usna.usda.gov/