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Open the Door to Autumn Color by Sally Ruth

Tuesday, November 28, 2023 2:07 PM | EMILY LEVAN (Administrator)

Originally published in The Garden Path, Fall 2021.  If you would like to get The Garden Path, we invite you to JOIN US as a member.

Open the Door to Autumn Color

by Sally Ruth

October in Ohio is like a rotating color wheel flashing a multitude of hues that change through the 31 days of the month. Mother Nature's wheel of color is much more than an elementary school's primary, secondary, and tertiary color wheel. To the trained eye, there are leaf tinctures of yellow named: honeyed old gold, autumn gold, lurid and gamboge or camboge. There are also reds and purples like claret, scarlet, crimson, carmine, ferrous red, maroon, or russet. Orangish values may have monikers of amber, carnelian, tiger, tangerine, or squash. As leaves die, you'll see lurid, tannin, brackish sepia, tortoiseshell, peach-tinted parchment, bitter chocolate, mushroomy buff, burnished copper, and feuille-morte (French- dead leaf).

Everyone sees color a bit differently and an autumn leaf usually shows more than one distinct color on a tree or even a leaf. Much like human skin color that changes a bit as we sun ourselves and age - the possibilities are endless. But each shade is important, beautiful, and interesting.

Experts in autumn color are called 'Fall Color Foresters', I bet you've never heard of one. ODNR Fall Color Forester, Jamie Regula, reported via video weekly in 2020 detailing where the best fall color in Ohio for that week was and what colors you might see. There is also a chart that lists state parks, forest, or areas by Ohio region and gives a code to where in the color change cycle each location is for that date: Color Condition Key: Mostly Green - no real fall color seen. Changing - still mostly green, less than 25 percent color. Near Peak - significant color showing - anywhere from 30 to 60 percent color. Peak - peak colors - as much as 85 percent showing. Fading - fading from peak conditions, and leaves falling to forest floor.

Why and how does spectacular autumn leaf color happen? A leaf's job is to create food for the tree. Through a process called photosynthesis, a tree takes in water and minerals from its roots and they travel to the leaves.  The leaves take in sunlight and carbon dioxide through tiny holes called stoma. These molecules, along with the chemical chlorophyll help the leaf make sugar. Chlorophyll allows the leaf to absorb sunlight in the form of red light and blue light. Green light is reflected, hence, trees have green leaves in spring and summer. Autumn brings with it shorter days signaling that winter is coming. The tree relies on stored sugar to survive. Twigs and buds are equipped to survive the freezing winter temperatures, but fragile leaves are not. The vein system in the leaf is sealed off and chlorophyll production is reduced and finally the chlorophyll breaks down. the natural pigments of the leaf begin to show: Anthocyanin (reds and purples and bronzes)begin being produced as chlorophyll is broken down. Carotene (oranges) are covered by chlorophyll, but when it is reduced, the oranges are no longer 'covered up'. Yellows get their color from xanthophyll. One type of xanthophyll is lutein which is good for eye health.

It is time, sit out on your porch, go for a drive, and get ready for Mother Nature's intricate color wheel show.

Vist ODNR website, or go to and search ODNR Fall Color Forecast.

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