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Turning over an Old Leaf

Yisrael Rutman

As nights get longer and temperatures begin to drop, somehow trees know it’s time to get ready for winter — and that means turning color.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Why do leaves turn color? Why don’t they put on a warm coat and earmuffs? In a way, that’s what evergreens do. They protect their needle-like leaves from the cold with waxy coatings and natural “antifreezes.” But broadleaf plants shed their leaves. Before they do, though, the plants first try to salvage important nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. A natural chemical called chlorophyll gives leaves their green color throughout the growing season. Chlorophyll makes possible another miracle, photosynthesis, a chemical reaction that changes sunlight into carbohydrates, the food plants live on. When the growing season is over, the plant stops making the green chlorophyll, leaving carotenoids, which produce the yellow, orange, red, and gold we see this time of year. They were there all along, but the green covered them up.

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