Autumn’s Changing Leaves: What’s Really Happening?

Ahh yes, another little chemistry lesson for you … Don’t worry, I promise it’s a short one!

Okay, so there are many molecules in a plant leaf, but there are 3 main ones that affect its color:

  • Chlorophyll – aids in photosynthesis and food production in a plant, it also gives leaves their green color
  • Carotenoids – give plants and veggies their yellow, orange and brown colors, you see them in foods such as corn, carrots and bananas
  • Anthocyanins – give the red and purple hues to foods such as apples, blueberries, cherries and plums

In the spring and summertime, plants are working hard using energy from the sun to form sugars (their form of food).  The leaves are rich in chlorophyll, giving them a lush, green color.

:: Nature Lover Chlorophyll Embroidery Hoop by It’s A Stitch ::

As the nights grow longer and sunlight is fleeting in the autumn and winter months, the production of chlorophyll slows and stops.  As the leftover chlorophyll breaks down and is cleared from the plant, we see the green color drain from the leaves.  However, the carotenoids and anthocyanins remain in the leaves where their vibrant, warm colors finally get a chance to present themselves!

:: Leaf Tote by La Lune Designs & Leaf Brooch by What. No Mints? ::

The carotenoids and anthocyanins are present in the leaves year round, but they are overpowered by the green color from the chlorophyll molecules most of the year.  When fall rolls around and chlorophyll stops being produced, that is when they really get to show off their beautiful colors!

Jim and I were commenting yesterday about how particularly spectacular the changing trees have looked this year.  We have had a long string of warm and sunny days with cool nights, which is apparently the best weather conditions for autumnal displays – Score!

One last note …

I will be hosting my VERY FIRST GIVEAWAY starting on MONDAY!! I am super-excited to finally be giving away one of my own products on my own site – Yay!

I don’t want to tell you too much now, but here’s a little sneak peek at what the winner will receive:

Eep!  Okay, calm down Sasha – I will be giving details about the contest and way more photos of the prize on Monday so make sure to stop by then!



  1. Very interesting little story and little chemistry lesson about autumn’s changing colors, and written so everybody – even me – can understand this explanation. I will come back and read more on your blog :-) – I love nature – and photography – and will make a link to your post here in blog – and help some more to understand the chemistry here! And: I love the photo of you (?) standing in those beautiful leaves!

  2. Pingback: Oak – in October « Truels' Blog

  3. Great post! You’ve done a great job of explaining the chemistry in a way that’s easy to understand (says the chemistry major). I’ll be keeping an eye out for your giveaway!

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