Anthocyanin - A Fall Color Secret

By Kent Higgins

The red pigment, which is responsible for the brilliant reds and scarlets of maples and oaks, is anthocyanin, which is believed to be produced in some way as a result of accumulation of sugars and tannins in the leaves.

Experiments have shown that when the temperature falls to 45 degrees, or below, there is very little or no translocation of sugars and other materials from the leaves to other parts of the plant. When cool nights follow warm, bright, sunny days, sugar and other materials, which are manufactured in the leaves, are trapped in the leaves and conditions are favorable for production of red color.

A summary of the requirements for good fall color in this area should include these: care of ficus and trees should be in good, healthy condition resulting from favorable summer weather conditions and protection from injurious insects and diseases; varieties of trees which are expected to color brilliantly should be located in an open area where they will receive the full benefit of the sun's rays; the delay of a hard freeze until late in the fall season; a gradual approach of autumn with bright, sunny, warm days followed by cool nights. Fall color is poor when the autumn days are cloudy, warm and rainy and when the season is brought to a sudden premature end by a severe freeze which kills the leaves before they have had a chance to color.

Fall color is indeed one of Nature's many secrets. A few points are fairly well understood regarding the phenomenon, but scientists have failed to solve many of such problems, as, "Why does this hard maple turn yellow in autumn, while the one beside it of the same species and apparently living under identical environment, turns a brilliant red?" Even though many secrets remain unsolved, some knowledge of the marvelous procedure of Nature adds greatly to our enjoyment of this beautiful season. - 29857

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