While we often comment on the beauty of fall and use it as an opportunity to spend time outdoors to enjoy nature and the surrounding fall foliage, we rarely stop to think about why it’s a standout New England season. During Grace Farms’ Fall Foliage Tours, we do exactly that. We walk the landscape, sprinkled with more than 1,000 trees, and explore the causes of this natural change and why this transition happens from a scientific standpoint. What’s really happening behind the scenes, and what other changes occur in nature as a result?
There are several myths surrounding why the leaves change, but scientifically it starts when we reach the Fall Equinox and the Earth’s position changes in relation to the sun, reaching its furthest distance from the sun. As a result, the light wanes and the days get increasingly shorter which allows less sunlight to reach the trees and in turn decreases the production of chlorophyll, a green pigment in the leaves.
As it turns out, all the rich reds, bright yellows, brilliant purples and burnt oranges are already present in the leaves we see throughout spring and summer. However, the chlorophyll that is produced from sunlight hitting the leaves’ surface during the warmer months creates a chemical reaction that causes the green color to overpower all the others. When the sun wanes, the colors so commonly associated with the fall season are revealed in the foliage. These pigments are created by the presence of sugars from sap that is trapped inside the leaves and contain the same potent antioxidants found in beets, red apples, and grapes, which have been utilized for their powerful healing properties for centuries.
While these changes in color may be the most apparent to us, the decrease in sunlight affects all living things, and these changes—many of which are linked to the changes in the trees—work to serve one another quite well. As a result of decreased UV exposure, plants start to protect themselves from the harsher elements that they will experience during the fall and winter. Even birds seek more hospitable climates, and many will migrate up to 11,000 miles each way annually. This migration spans roughly three and a half times the distance of the United States.
As you enjoy the sights this Autumn, consider what else is happening before your eyes, and other changes occurring in nature to accommodate or react to the changing climate.