What makes autumn leaves change color?

Stephanie Raymond – Yesterday

  • Audacy

Fall is officially here, which means the leaves will change from green to shades of red, yellow, and orange. But why exactly does this annual event take place?

It all boils down to photosynthesis.

Leaves change color as chlorophyll, the pigment that makes plants green, begins to break down in colder weather, according to the National Park Service.

“When the temperature drops and there is less daylight, the tree begins to conserve the energy it generated in the spring and summer months,” the NPS explains. “As autumn progresses, a tree will send a substance to each leaf called an enzyme that is directed to take apart chlorophyll pigments.”

Once the chlorophyll breaks down, the other pigments that weren’t visible to the human eye before are now on full display.

Every tree has a different combination of pigments, which gives leaves their unique colors: Yellow leaves contain xanthophyll, orange leaves contain carotene, and red leaves contain anthocyanin.

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