Nature Photography, LLC
The Leaves, They Are A’Changin’
Autumn is by far my favorite time of year. My energy levels soar as the sluggishness caused by summer’s heat fades with the cooling of the days. The crispness in the air lifts my spirits high. And my eyes are treated to a glorious display of vibrant hues as leaves prepare for winter.
Have you ever wondered what causes this remarkable transition in leaf color? While most of us know that it has something to do with chlorophyll, we would be hard pressed to come up with any other tidbits of information. So here, in a nutshell, is the explanation for this most interesting of transformations – a transformation that turns most nature photographers into shutter-clicking maniacs every fall.
Chlorophyll, as you remember from junior high science class, is that magical substance that plants use to make food from sunlight and water. More accurately, plants use the energy from sunlight to turn carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and glucose, and they need chlorophyll to absorb that sunlight energy. Chlorophyll is green. In the summer, leaves are so jam-packed with chlorophyll that the leaves themselves look green. Other colors exist in the leaves, even the deepest of green leaves, but the chlorophyll overpowers all of these other colors, masking them.
Then comes the shortening of days and that coolness in the air that so energizes me. It also has an effect on leaves: it signals them to begin shutting down their energy-production facilities, because they will soon be out of sufficient resources to continue operations. (Fortunately trees are like squirrels; during the plentiful summer months, they store away enough extra food supplies to last them through the long winter.) Chlorophyll production diminishes. That is when the fireworks begin: the underlying colors of the leaves come out in full force – as long as those colors are yellow or orange. (We’ll get to the reds, purples, and browns in a moment.)
Orange colors come from carotene – carrots, anyone? – while yellows are caused by xanthophyll; the two comprise the major subgroups of carotenoids. In a leaf, carotenoids capture blue light energy to use in photosynthesis while simultaneously serving as potent anti-oxidants, protecting chlorophyll from damage caused by that light. Chances are you use visible carotenoid levels all the time, too, especially to make decisions in the produce section of your grocery store. For example, the green color of unripe bananas is caused by chlorophyll. As the bananas ripen, chlorophyll levels drop and more xanthophyll is visible, creating that gorgeous yellow of the perfectly ripe banana. (And as the carotenoids degrade, they produce the delicious aromas of ripe fruit. The products of carotenoid breakdown are common components of the fragrance industry – but that’s another story altogether.)
The fabulous reds and purples that adorn the autumn leaves of maples and other tree species are generally not caused by carotenoids, but by another chemical entirely, a group of pigments called anthocyanins. Like carotenoids, anthocyanins are also abundant in the produce section: they are the source of the beautiful hues in such goodies as cranberries, raspberries, beets, blueberries, blackberries, and even eggplants. Unlike carotenoids, however, anthocyanins are first produced in leaves in autumn; they are not “uncovered” by decreased levels of chlorophyll. Like chlorophyll in summer, autumn’s anthocyanins overpower and cover the yellows and oranges of the carotenoids that are also present in their leaves. Glucose trapped in leaves is converted to this potent antioxidant, which seems to serve two major functions: protection of the leaf from photo damage and the lowering of the leaf’s freezing point. Together, these allow the tree to hold onto its leaves a bit longer in order to extract the greatest amount of nutrients from it. And your eyes are not fooling you: those breath-taking reds really ARE more vibrant on bright, sunny days, as sunlight increases the production of anthocyanins.
What about the extremely common browns of autumn? They are caused by waste products trapped in leaves, namely tannin, a substance most often referred to in discussions of wine and the tanning of hides (yes, that is where the process gets its name). Tannins are thought to provide a certain amount of protection from insects and other predators. They have a bitter, astringent taste that is unpleasant to predators, including humans. It is that astringency that we taste when we eat unripe fruit. Tannins seeping from fallen leaves and other plants are also what cause many rivers, streams, and lakes in forested areas to look “root beer brown,” a deep but nonetheless clear brown.
There you have it: not only what causes the fireworks of autumn, but also what benefits these pigments provide the plant. Now go capture a few images of them! Your eyes will thank you for it.
A Short Break from Shows
We are taking October off from art shows, but don’t despair! We’ll be back in November for our last show of the year, Custer’s Christmas Arts & Crafts Show in Pasco, Washington (see sidebar at top). Mark your calendars – it will be an ideal time to pick up a fabulous Christmas gift for the nature lover in your life.
Get 10% off of unframed, 8x12 prints of “Elk Yoga” and / or unframed, 8x12 prints of “Path of Tranquility” when you order from our specials page. As with all of our unframed prints, these prints are eligible for our No Hassle Returns.
Autumn is here (yay!), and with it comes a fun outdoor tradition: the corn maze.
· The first modern corn maze in the U.S., made in 1993, was conceived as a way to raise funds for victims of severe flooding that had swept through the Midwest. The designer, Don Frantz, adapted European-style hedge mazes into a much larger and more challenging maze, and donated all proceeds to the Red Cross. This first maze formed the image of a stegosaurus named “Cornelius, the Cobasaurus”.
· Many Corn Mazes form an image visible from the air. Portraits, maps, words, and pictures celebrating the local area are all common themes.
· Most farms change the design of their corn mazes every year.
· Mazes offer a variety of activities. Some are simple “Can you get from here to there?” challenges, while others offer additional activities such as finding hidden checkpoints along the way, solving puzzles, answering trivia based upon clues hidden in the maze, etc. Some even have actors dressed in scary costumes that will jump out at visitors along the way.
· Think all corn mazes are razed soon after Halloween? Think again. In Florida, some corn mazes stay open until December 16.
· This year, a 15-acre maze in Alberta, Canada, incorporates a 7-acre, working QR code (those funny squares that you can scan with a smart phone to get more info about products or services, often found on advertising materials). Scanning the code requires an aerial photo.
· A series of four corn mazes in Bellbrook, Ohio, that together form a single image, covers 62 acres and contains 11.5 miles of trails.
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This post first appeared on City Escapes Nature Photography, please read the originial post: here