Going on a short drive throughout the Northeast in fall offers a memorizing display of a seemingly impossible variety of colors as the trees change their survival focus in response to their cyclic dance with the Sun and the Moon. They're quite literally responding to a change in the rhythm of the dance. But why do leaves change color in the fall? A surprising number of people don't know, even if they've danced with the cyclic seasonal changes for decades. Here's a little science, straight and simple as we honor the trees and their dance with the Sun and the Moon. The trees "do" less and resonnate more of a "be" state. May the colors inspire you to change your rhythm to the current dance, synchronize with the slowing down process, and maybe dress it up a bit too.
So, chlorophyll exists in leaves to help facilitate the process of photosynthesis, where plants absorb carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight to produce oxygen and sugars - yes, they literally make matter materialize as plant tissue. Chlorophyll is green and while other colors are present, the tree leans on the chlorophyll so heavily to turn the suns rays into matter that the green color dominates. This can happen easily during the times of year when there is plenty of daylight hours. But when there are more hours of darkness per day than sunlight, things change. Priorities change. The deciduous - leaf -trees find keeping chlorophyll working on the process of photosynthesis far too expensive in terms of energy expended to thrive. The shortening days and lengthening nights are the prompt to stop focusing on the whole photosynthesis process and just let that whole thing break down and fall away. Once the abundant green chlorophyll shrivels and fades, other pigments hiding in the leaf, such as the anthocyanins which give us burgundy and reds, and carotenoids which give us the golds and bright yellows, reveal their color briefly for a few weeks before the leaves fall off altogether to become a brown crunchy mass on the forest floor. This then feeds so much more on the forest floor as the trees prepare for the cold and conserve their energy with promises of spring blooms.
Jennifer Costa, Herbalist, Teacher, BS, RN, CST, and Founder of ElderMoon School of Herbs & Earth Medicine