Uzzi and I love to munch on the yellow and red leaves that fall in our paddock in autumn.
Uzzi and I were munching the yummy, crisp leaves that fall in our paddock and gazing at the beautiful autumn colors in our woods when Uzzi swallowed and then said, “Why do they do that? Why do the leaves change colors before they fall?” I thought, hard but I didn’t know, so last night we booted up the computer to find out.
According to the USDA Forest Service, leaves begin changing color in the fall in response to shorter days and less intense daylight. Weather, especially temperature and moisture, effects leaf color, too. Warm, sunny days and crisp, cool but not freezing nights bring about the best fall colors because during the day, leaves produce lots of sugars but the cool nights and gradual closing of veins prevent the sugars from escaping. This promotes production of anthocyanins, pigments that cause leaves to turn red or purple.
The amount of moisture in the soil also affects autumn leaves. A late spring or a severe summer drought causes trees to color later than usual. A warm, damp spring followed by a normal summer and warm, sunny autumn produces the best fall colors.
And certain trees produce certain colors, so a mixed forest makes for the best color display. Here in the Ozarks, forests are mostly oak (with red, brown or russet autumn leaves) and hickory (golden bronze) with persimmon (yellow), sumac (red) and dogwood (purple-red) mixed in, whereas our horse friends, Imbir and Maggie, who came with Mom and Dad from Minnesota, say the birch and aspen trees in their pasture turned yellow and the maples yellow to scarlet to orange and red.
People called “leaf peepers” vacation in places where fall colors are the best, like the North Woods, New England, and the Adirondack, Appalachian, Smoky and Rocky Mountains. If you’d like to peep at trees, the U.S. Forest Service maintains a fall color hotline at 800-354-4595. Check it out!
How to Save Autumn Leaves
If you love autumn leaves as much as Mom does, save some to keep through the year. All you need is dry leaves, old newspaper, a stack of heavy books, wax paper and the kind of iron you use to press your clothes. Pick bright, pretty, flexible leaves with no blemishes and place them between six sheets of newspaper top and bottom; you can stack several layers of newspaper and leaves if you like. Stack heavy books on top to squash them flat.
After at least 24 hours, place individual leaves between two sheets of waxed paper and gently press the top with a medium-hot iron, moving slowly over the surface for about 10 seconds. Take care—wax paper gets hot! Allow the waxed paper and leaves to cool, then either trim around each leaf, leaving a border of wax paper, or very, very carefully peel the wax paper off of the leaf. (Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.)
Waxed leaves make fine bookmarks and really cool sun catchers when hung from a string!