Why do leaves change color? Perhaps it is Earth's mode of transportation toward the future. In the midst of the lives of we lead, so often discouraging and so rarely exhilarating, is the changing of seasons that happens everywhere and all around us. Symbolic of progress, these brief yet pristine periods of time are subtle ushers of transformation – in the physical world and, if we can harness the energy, within ourselves. The vivid palette of autumn and the palpable lushness of spring seemingly arrive at the most opportune of moments, and vanish with each passing wind. Breathtakingly beautiful, there is science behind the splendor of leaf transformation.
Plants breathe as we do. They inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen, thus keeping us alive and sustaining the circle of life. Sunlight is the key behind this mysterious and everlasting process. By photosynthesis, or literally, “putting together with light,” plants are able to convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen. Take a breath here.
In all plants, a green pigment may be found called chlorophyll, which is critical in photosynthesis as a mechanism which transforms light into energy. As the heat of summer finally subdues, the days become shorter and shorter. Less sunlight falls upon the Earth, and too little of this essential ingredient is delivered for photosynthesis to occur. Without photosynthesis, there is no purpose for chlorophyll; as chlorophyll fades, colors that have been there all along yet hidden beneath shades of green slowly become visible. The coolness of autumn air flatters the stored glucose in all plants to a reddish hue, while the wastes of oak trees become brown.
Yellow and orange are simply relieved to be seen. The combination of these vibrant colors inflames greenery everywhere, and pulsates the onset of autumn. Come springtime, as sunlight showers upon us in tingling warmth, chlorophyll reappears, as does photosynthesis and the bright green of a once withered forest. If a spare moment can be found, allow the atmosphere of these seasonal turns to wash over the mind and soul, and revitalize that which may have become forgotten. Beyond the science, leaves change as reminders to cherish, rekindle, and move forward.