RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – It’s something we look forward to every year: the leaves changing colors, lighting up the landscape with a gorgeous array of colors. But why does this happen?
In short, the leaves are dying.
It is a little morbid to think about something so beautiful in that way, but that’s the short answer.
The long answer has to do with chlorophyll.
Chlorophyll is found within cells of all plants, including in leaves, and plays an important role in photosynthesis, which keeps plants alive. Chlorophyll absorbs sunlight and gives a leaf the energy it will use to break down carbon dioxide and water into food. This happens most often during the spring and summer months, leaving the leaves bright and green.
While we see green more vibrantly, there are other pigments within leaves year-round. The green is simply outshining the other colors.
During the fall, as temperatures cool and the days have less sunlight, chlorophyll is not creating as much food for the plant and it starts to break down. As it breaks down, the green pigment fades away leaving behind the yellow, orange, and red we associate with fall foliage.
The exact color of fall leaves depends on the types of trees where you live.
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