Happy fall, y’all. Every autumn is an opportunity to revel in the beauty of all of the colors of fall. The combinations of reds, oranges, yellows, purples, and browns is the result of chemical processes that take place in the tree as the season changes. Several parts of the country are currently experiencing incredible fall foliage. During the summer, tree leaves produce all the pigments we see in fall, but they make so much chlorophyll — which is responsible for the green color — that the green masks the underlying reds, oranges, and yellows.
When the days become shorter and there is less sunlight and colder temperatures, the leaves stop their food-making process, and the plants stop making chlorophyll. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the other pigments become more visible, giving the leaves part of their fall splendor.
The other pigments besides chlorophyll are carotenoids which produce yellows and oranges, and anthocyanin which produces reds, violets, and blues. These are the same pigments that color fruits and vegetables, such as corn, carrots, pumpkins, apples, cranberries, cherries, blueberries, and plums. They help leaves use up remaining energy as chlorophyll disappears.
Different trees have different proportions of these pigments, and the weather also affects the range and intensity of the colors we see in the fall. Warm, wet weather delays the disappearance of chlorophyll and the appearance of anthocyanins. Cool, dry weather favors the destruction of chlorophyll. Sunny weather promotes the formation of anthocyanins. So, the most brilliant autumn colors are produced when dry, sunny days are followed by cool, dry nights.
Aspens are known for turning a brilliant gold. A show of reds comes from mountain ash, red maple, and red oak. Sugar maple can show different colors at the same time. Its leaves turn yellow, orange, red, and every hue in between. Texas is home to a number of oak species, along with sumac, cedar, cottonwoods, walnut, sycamore, and, of course, maples. The Lone Star state typically hits its peak leaf peeping season a bit later than the rest of the country, so there are still opportunities to take in some beautiful fall foliage here as well as in other parts of U.S. throughout the rest of the month.