The air is crisply cool and New Englanders are putting up storm windows and airing out winter clothes. Touristy places like lobster shacks, ice cream stands, and little souvenir shops are closing. Meanwhile, the trees are shedding their leafy coverings to conserve energy for the long winter ahead.
Each fall I am in awe of the tree beauty here in New England. While the transformation begins in September, it reaches peak here in October. Having forgotten my high school biology, I began to get curious about why and how the leaves changed from their summer green to shades of yellow, gold, red, purple, and magenta.
Deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves in the fall and regrow them in the spring) begin to get the message that winter is coming because hours of daylight become shorter and the temperatures drop. All during the springand early fall, the trees have been busy making chlorophyll for their food. As nights get cooler, they stop making it in preparation for winter. Once a leaf no longer has the green of chlorophyll, the oranges, reds, and yellows in their chemical composition shine through. Then it’s only a matter of time before those lovely leaves become brittle and fall to the ground. The sound of crunching leaves as one walks is one more sign that winter is coming. Each tree has a different timeline, depending on type of tree and soil composition, as well as available water and daily sunlight.