Ever Wonder Why Trees' Leaves Change Colors?

Learn a little bit about the "why" behind those burnt hues you love to Instagram in the autumn.


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COURTESY DAVEY TREE

When tree leaves turn from lush green to golden yellow, burnt orange, and bright red, it's almost impossible not to aim a camera at the canopies and snap colorful shot. It's almost a rite of passage living in Charlotte. While the turning tree leaves provide a plethora of Instagram gold, what many people don't realize is the reason behind the color change. A common thought is that since the weather is cooling down, the leaves die and thus change colors and eventually fall to the ground (gracing homeowners with the delightful task of raking). This theory is not totally wrong, but it's not right, either.

 

We brought in a tree expert to help explain the real reason trees' leaves change colors in the fall. It's actually quite interesting, even if you don't like science or care about the "why" behind things. Trust us on this.

 

Certified with the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and a seasoned arborist, Ray Betz of Davey Tree in Charlotte explains that the leaves changing can be the effect of a few different causes, depending on the health of the trees. Betz says, "To survive winter, trees need to absorb essential nutrients from their leaves and store them in their roots so they are available the following spring. Color changes occur as trees absorb these essential nutrients."

 

So, yes, the leaves change colors because of the change in temperature. And, yes, the leaves are technically dying, but only because they are keeping the tree alive. Pretty heroic, don't you think?

COURTESY DAVEY TREE

Other environmental conditions besides cooler weather that play a role in the leaves turning are changes in rainfall/weather and the loss of daylight hours. However, if your leaves seem to be discoloring or dropping too early, it could be a sign of tree stress, according to Betz. He says homeowners should check their trees for stress in early October—not too soon and not too late—to be able to see the difference between tree stress and seasonal color change. Extreme heat, drought, insects, and diseases are among tree stressors. If you're worried about the health of your tree, you can always can a tree expert like those at Davey Tree. That's their job, after all.

 

Otherwise, enjoy the turning leaves this fall, and impress your friends with the new tree facts you learned today. Throw some tree info in your Instagram caption, and be sure to tag us (@clt_home). We can't resist a good tree photo in the fall. 

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Charlotte at Home explores the foundations, designs, and details of spaces in and around the Queen City. Style and furniture, porches and plants, urban chic and country casual — you’ll find it here, just swing on by.

About Alyssa Ruane 
Alyssa Ruane is a freelance lifestyle and fashion writer based in Charlotte, NC, though she'll always be a Florida girl at heart. She loves playing soccer and volleyball, and she’s a stickler for clean kitchens. When not writing, she can be found at a brewery, on Twitter (@alyssaruane), or on Twitter at a brewery.

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