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Feeling like fall

Fall is my favorite time of the year. Waking up in the morning and feeling that chill in the air — even 70 degrees is chilly after a hot, humid summer in Mississippi.

The best part always has been watching the trees change color. Red, yellow or orange and every color in between, fall is truly the season when Mother Nature shows off her color palette.

But where do fall colors come from? The answer is found when we take a very close look at the structure of leaves. The primary function of leaves is to absorb sunlight to allow the plant to perform the miracle of transforming light energy into chemical energy. It creates sugars that the plant uses for growth. The process of light absorption is called photosynthesis.

Sunlight is made up of light at different wavelengths and each wavelength is a different color. We have all seen these different wavelengths and colors of light before. Think of a rainbow. Leaves have many pigments that absorb these different wavelengths of light. The primary pigment in a leaf is chlorophyll which absorbs light in the blue and red range. Leaves are green because chlorophyll actually reflects the green portion of sunlight. This masks the other pigments including carotenoids (reds, orange and yellows) and anthocyanins (reds, blues and purples).

During the fall there are strong environmental cues occurring. The day length and night time temperatures are decreasing. Trees can sense these changes and start recycling nutrients in the leaves and move them to the roots for next year. Chlorophyll is broken down very quickly in this process. Once the chlorophyll is gone the other pigments become apparent by reflecting the other wavelengths (colors) of sunlight.

Now our fall colors are not as spectacular as the mountains of North Carolina or New England but are beautiful all the same. Enjoy the red/oranges of the maples, dark purple of black gum, reds and purples of dogwood and yellows of the hickories.

It’s feeling like fall folks, and I’m going to take in every moment of it.

Rebecca Bates is director of the Lincoln County Cooperative Extension Service. To contact her, call 601-835-3460