Rainbows in nature are more common than we think. The first thing that comes to mind is a rainbow after a thunderstorm. But they can also be found in the iridescence of a clam shell, the shimmer in a tiny rainbow darter fish’s scales or the oily sheen atop the water created by decomposing plant material. But seeing how the air is crisp and the hats and gloves are on, the rainbow of fall leaf color is here.
The cool winds and the shortened days of fall in Ohio tell us to put on a sweater and warn the trees to prepare for winter. Deciduous trees lose leaves in the fall. But before the leaves can be lost, the tree will put on a beautiful show of color. A combination of cooler temperatures and shorter days bring about this change. To understand this metamorphosis of vegetation you must first understand how a deciduous tree grows.
Let’s take a step back in time to 7th grade science. All plants make their own food by converting light energy into chemical energy and storing it as sugar, this is called photosynthesis. The tree moves the sugar with small vascular tubes called xylem and phloem like veins in the human body carrying blood to important organs.
Trees are made up of cells like any other living thing. The cells in the leaf and stem will change rapidly in response to the longer nights. This means that fall color usually happens around the same time each year. Chlorophyll, the dominant pigment that colors the leaf green, is constantly replaced throughout the growing season until the leaf stem is sealed over by the abscission layer. This layer of corky cells will also begin to block the movement of sugars to the leaf. This is when the magic happens. With the chlorophyll gone, the once masked yellows, reds and purples hiding there all along will show their true colors.
Having beautiful fall color in your yard can add to your property value and simply give you pleasure. Following are few tress that are native to Northeast Ohio. Sugar maple will produce a show of yellow leaves and the red maple will wow you with hues of reds and yellows. Sweetgum trees offer red to purple tones as do flowering dogwoods and pin oaks. Serviceberry and blackgum trees present a brilliant range of shades from red to orange and orange to yellow. There are many more to choose from but this will definitely give you a fall rainbow of color in your own backyard.
Rocky River Nature Center