Tuesday, November 08, 2005


As another season of nature’s amazing treetop displays ends, we may ask “why all the color”?

Scientists know the reason leaves turn such bright colors each autumn. Several pigments, embedded in the leaf all season, have been playing second fiddle to the green chlorophyll. But now that the dying leaf no longer needs this food-producing chemical, chlorophyll fades from the scene, leaving the pigments to show off brilliant reds, yellows, oranges, and purples.

But why? Why would a tree put on such a display?

Scientists simply don’t know. As far as they can tell, a tree gains no known benefit from its autumn colors.

There is a benefit, but probably not evolutionary or measurable by scientists. The magnificence of the fall colors adds the poetic to the practical in our appreciation of these marvelous plants. Deciduous trees feed us with their fruits, shade us with their leaves, manufacture oxygen for us to breath, and hold our earth together with their roots. And just as an aside, they wow us with their brilliance each fall.

Makes it pretty tough to cut one down, doesn’t it?

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