The Artists of Autumn

Autumn Leaves

Leaves use the same technique as artists do to mix their colors. It comes down to what colors of light are absorbed and which are reflected. When most of the pigment reflects green light, we see green. When enough green pigment goes away, we get to see the other ones. There are also yellows, reds, blues and browns in most leaves, their amounts depending on the species of plant and local conditions.

When Fall comes and deciduous trees drop their leaves there’s an orchestration of events going on. The tree draws moisture and sugars out of the leaf, for storage in the roots. At the same time it seals off the branch and weakens the base of the leaf’s stem. Soon the leaf is holding on by just the fibrous veins that used to flow with the tree’s juices.

While all this is going on the chemistry in the leaf is changing. Chlorophyl, the green pigment that spent the summer converting water, carbon dioxide and sunlight into sugar, is no longer being replenished and is breaking down and fading away. Now the yellow pigments can be seen. They are carotenoids, which have been converting some of the green light not used by chlorophyl, but which reflect light in the yellow range.

The red color seen in some leaves is due to another pigment which is actually produced as the leaves die. Stray sugars combine with colorless flavonols and sunlight to produce a pigment that ranges from red to blue. The amount of red seen in leaves is dependent on the species of tree and the weather. Cool nights and sunny days stimulate the production of the blue-red anthocyanin pigments, and thus encourage the reddest leaves.

The yellows and reds also decay and fade away, leaving tans and browns. The most common brown pigment is tannin, and by the time the leaves hit the ground they are almost exclusively brown.

The color in autumn leaves depends on what pigments the plant produces, and in what ratios. Then there’s the different rates at which the various pigments decay. And finally there’s the effect of weather on the production and decay of the pigments. Different types of trees turn different colors, and trees of the same type can differ, depending on their local conditions.

Nature has been mixing pigments all summer. It’s time for the show.


About arjaybe

Jim has fought forest fires and controlled traffic in the air and on the sea. Now he writes stories.
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12 Responses to The Artists of Autumn

  1. mixedupmeme says:

    The show doesn’t start where I live for about another 2 months. 🙁

    I took a botany course in college. I think I learned some of this. I do remember looking in the microscope and seeing those little leaf veins.

    Much better than the biology course and the little wigglies.

  2. arjaybe says:

    It’s a little early for here too, but we’ve had an odd season this year. We have a couple of maple trees that had most of their leaves turn red and fall off already, while the rest of them are still green. A few of the trees along the river are turning, but most of them aren’t yet.

    I guess I jumped the gun a little, but I can always run the story again later. Who’s going to notice.-) Oh yeah, you. You already have a reputation as a noticer, don’t you?-)


  3. mixedupmeme says:

    (I am going to ask this here…not about autumn..)

    I know what I have been reading for several chapters is a flashback (not to be confused with flashball). It is about Elgin before he becomes famous…

    But I have lost the transition chapter….when he was with Minder and then jumped over to meeting Francis.
    And I am confused about the Visitor. Is it happening when Elgin is young or when he is with Minder.

    And you are probably wondering if I am even reading the same story. LOL

    I guess I want a time line. I guess I want one of those pages that you often see at the beginning of books that lists the characters and a little synopsis of how they fit when and where.

    Oh well….just continue on. I’m listening. 🙂

  4. arjaybe says:

    The book begins at the end of the story, when Elgin wakes up with Minder, and without Frances. Then it bounces between that and the historical account of the comet disaster and so on (before the “beginning” of the story) for a few chapters. From the time when Elgin wakes up with Stanton, the story is in “real time.” No more bopping around.

    Most of the Visitor mystery took place while Elgin was in hibernation, so you know it’s dangerous, but they don’t.

    Good thing you didn’t read my response to your comment on “Reading – Chapters 24 & 25.” (I think it was 24 & 25. If you’re interested I’ll look it up and unprivate it.)


  5. mixedupmeme says:

    Everything is now clear ……

    Probably best to let secrets be secrets. Most of what I write I usually regret. 🙁

    (I am playing with the HTML tags. I wonder if I will regret that too.)

  6. mixedupmeme says:

    Is this word synaesthetic in the story anywhere? Or something similar
    I recall something about the senses being heightened or being able to feel colors?

    I’m just fishing, but I came across the word from another blogger and I recalled something in the early chapters……but couldn’t find the reference. I will further explain……if it is relevant.

  7. arjaybe says:

    Yes, “synesthetic” is in the story, along with synesthete and synesthesia, only I prefer to make the “ae” just “e.” (You should be able to search on those words in your text copy.) All of the long period comets- red, orange, yellow and green – were populated by synesthetes . Their talents, such as Elgin’s sense of right, are products of one or more forms of synesthesia. I understand that more than fifty types have been identified so far. You could try searching Google on “time-space synesthesia” or “mirror-touch synesthesia.” See if you can figure out who has those.-)


  8. mixedupmeme says:

    Thank you for the further info. I knew I had read about it in the book….but thought you just made it up. lol

    I had made a comment about a song to a blogger and he replied that he had the……condition.
    Boring me……..I just see and hear and feel and taste and smell in plain old black and white.

    But I think I now know why my husband never listens to me or doesn’t understand what or why I am saying it. 🙁

    • arjaybe says:

      “But I think I now know why my husband never listens to me or doesn’t understand what or why I am saying it.”

      No, that’s just because you’re crazy. It doesn’t have anything to do with synesthesia.-)

      I doubt if you are completely lacking in synesthetic perceptions. I think as we understand more about it, we’re going to find that it’s a normal part of being human. People seeing colored numbers and so on are just the ones farther over on the right side of the graph. Do you, for instance, visualize the year or the week or the day to have a shape? Most people do, and that’s a form of synesthesia.


  9. mixedupmeme says:

    Thanks for clearing up the crazy part. 🙂

    Since I retired 16 years ago, I no longer have need to remember which day is which. So not sure if or how I visualize them.

    If I were to visualize how I visualize them before or after retirement, I would say the days after have a sweet smelling goodness about them.

  10. arjaybe says:

    Temporal-Olfactory synesthesia? You might have just discovered a new one!


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