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Autumn Leaves and Fall Colors: Nature Facts and a Poem

Linda Crampton is a teacher who enjoys reading and creative writing. Her favourite genres are classic literature, fantasy, myth, and poetry.

Autumn and the Death of Leaves

Many people find late autumn a depressing time of year, unlike the start of the fall season. In many parts of the world, the early autumn burst of color is glorious. The leaves change from green to vivid yellow, orange, purple, red, and russet, and—best of all, I think—a mixture of different colors in the same leaf. The ripened fruit is celebrated in harvest festivals and there are still occasional days that are warm enough to remind us of summer.

As autumn progresses into winter, though, it may seem as though death has the upper hand. Leaves are shed and begin to decay, many plants die, and dried, shriveled, and inedible fruits hang on bare branches. Most animals disappear and bird song is silenced. A cold dampness fills the air and soaks the ground. The days are short and color seems to have been drained from the landscape.

Despite the lack of color and activity, I don't find late autumn depressing. Most plants are dormant, not dead, and I know that they will produce new leaves in the spring. The bare trees have a beauty of their own and evergreen plants still maintain their color. The bright red holly berries are a special treat in late autumn, winter, and early spring. New catkins emerge before the year is over. Even when death has occurred, the nutrients in the decaying bodies will be recycled and will enable new plants to grow. The soil is rich with potential.

Fall is a time of rest and potential. The annual plants that have died have left their seeds behind to start new lives. Flowers will reappear in the spring and summer and fresh fruits will form. Animals will return—and in my area some never leave—and birds will sing again. The cycle of life will continue.

Chlorophyll in Green Leaves

Three categories of pigments exist in leaves—chlorophyll, carotenoids, and anthocyanins. The relative amounts of these pigments vary throughout the year and determine the color of a leaf.

Leaves appear green in the spring and summer because they contain a green pigment called chlorophyll. Pigments of other colors are present too, but they are usually masked by the chlorophyll. There are two main types of chlorophyll in a leaf— chlorophyll a and chlorophyll b. These absorb light of different wavelengths, or colors.

Chlorophyll plays a vital role in the life of a plant. It absorbs light energy, which the plant uses in photosynthesis. During this process, carbon dioxide from the air and water from the soil react to produce a sugar and oxygen. The sugar is the plant's food. In the fall, chlorophyll breaks down, revealing the pigments that give leaves their traditional and often very beautiful autumn colors.

The light absorption spectra of chlorophyll a and b are slightly different. Wavelength is measured in nm, or nanometers. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.

The light absorption spectra of chlorophyll a and b are slightly different. Wavelength is measured in nm, or nanometers. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.

Yellow and orange carotenoids and red anthocyanins produce the beautiful colors of leaves in autumn. The pigments also give color to many fruits and vegetables and may have health benefits for humans. Carrots, oranges, and mangoes are three foods that are rich in carotenoids. Red cabbages, cherries, and blueberries are three foods that contain anthocyanins.

Why Do Leaves Change Color in the Fall?

The yellow and orange carotenoids in fall leaves were present during the summer but were hidden by the chlorophyll. The carotenoids helped photosynthesis by absorbing specific wavelengths of light and passing the energy to chlorophyll. The red anthocyanins were made in the late summer and early fall, however. The color of anthocyanins depends on the pH of the environment, so they sometimes look purple instead of red.

There are several theories that attempt to explain why anthocyanins need to be produced in leaves that will soon die, but at the moment there isn't a definite answer to the puzzle. One theory is related to the fact that the chlorophyll degrades as the leaves age and other harmful changes in leaf cells occur. The anthocyanins may help the leaves by protecting them from light damage at a critical time, enabling them to make as much food for the plant as possible before they fall to the ground. This may be at least a partial explanation for the color change in some plants.

For a few wonderful weeks, the beautiful fall colors of leaves are visible. Eventually the leaves are shed and the plant uses stored food to stay alive. In the spring, the amount and intensity of light increases, chemical reactions in the plant increase in number, and new leaves develop, allowing more food to be made.

Red cabbage juice is used in school science experiments because its color indicates whether a substance is an acid or a base. Its anthocyanin molecules are red in an acid and blue or green in a base.

What Is Consciousness?

The poem below describes a tree losing its leaves in late fall. In the poem I imagine that plants and the elements of nature have consciousness, an idea that has supporters, although not amongst most scientists.

Consciousness is a mysterious phenomenon that is still not understood. In general (although there are exceptions), scientists believe that consciousness is created by processes occurring in the brain. Once the brain ceases to function at death, the person's consciousness no longer exists.

Some people have different ideas, however. One theory is that everything has consciousness—even the cells that make up the bodies of living things and the atoms that make up matter. Another is that there is one universal consciousness and that our brain accesses this consciousness during our lives. We may influence it just as it influences us. According to this view, consciousness is still present after our bodies die.

"The Four Seasons" is a set of four violin concerti composed by Anton Vivaldi and published in 1725. The first movement of "Autumn" represents a country dance and the joys of the harvest. The second depicts a period of relaxation after the revelry and drinking. The third depicts a hunt with horses and dogs. The piece below is played by The Academy of St Martin in the Fields. The violinist is Julia Fischer.

An Autumn Ritual

The cold wind plays around the tree,
bound by ancient duty and desire,
and secret knowledge of the Earth,
her powers and her needs.

The golden canopy responds
with joy and thrilling sympathy,
and branches sway in partnership
while leaves vibrate in ecstacy.

The strengthened wind works in delight
and leaves shake wildly in return,
yearning to cooperate, and
sensing wonderment nearby.

At last the bonds begin to break
and leaves detach triumphantly,
then frolic in the boisterous wind
to celebrate their victory.

The leaves fall far away, in grace,
and join the carpet on the ground
where understanding slowly dawns
as decay produces clarity.

Freedom from control reveals
a world much wider than before,
awareness stretched a billion fold,
discovering all that is.

Then slowly memories fade away
while insight clouds and shrinks,
atoms pulled to recombine
as nature builds again.

So now the cycle starts anew,
formation and decay,
forgetting then remembering
until the end of time.

References

  • Early autumn senescence in red maple is associated with a high leaf anthocyanin content from the Plants journal via the U.S. National Library of Medicine
  • Autumn reds may be a sunscreen from Indiana Public Media

© 2011 Linda Crampton

Comments

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 20, 2019:

Thank you for such a kind comment, Tia. I appreciate your visit very much.

Tia Miller from Arkansas on October 20, 2019:

I love this! I love the way you explain how you don't fall late autumn depressing and I love how in detail you got. Your poem was beautiful. This was a great read!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 01, 2014:

Hi, agaglia. Thank you very much for the comment. It's nice to meet you! There are several ways to add a video to a hub, but this is the method that I generally use. I first place a video capsule in the hub. I then add the embed code of the video to the capsule. In YouTube, the embed code can be found by clicking on "Share" under a video and then clicking on "Embed".

Annette Gagliardi from Minneapolis on November 01, 2014:

great hub. I loved your videos. I don't yet know how to upload a video. Great information. I loved your poetry.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 12, 2012:

Thank you, phdast7. I appreciate the comment and the share very much! Yes, I agree, autumn may seem depressing to some people as plants die and leaves fall, but it's always seemed to be a special time to me, just as you say - a time when nature rests and prepares for renewal.

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on May 12, 2012:

I absolutely love this poem. :) And everything you wrote about autumn. It has always been by favorite time of the year and I have never found fall or winter depressing. To me they are time of waiting, resting, gaining strength, preparing for renewal....

Besides which autumn is flat out gorgeous and the winds are so bracing and energizing. Lovely poem, great Hub. SHARING

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on December 15, 2011:

Hi, vocalcoach. I don't think that your actions are crazy at all! It's wonderful to connect with nature. Thank you very much for the kind comment and the vote.

Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on December 15, 2011:

A simply beautiful poem, alicia! I love autumn with the changing colors of the leaves. As the leaves, later fall to the ground...I talk to them as I walk by and congratulate them for the nice job they have done all summer providing shade and refuge on hot days. I also tell the falling leaves how lovely their colors are. Crazy? No. I just love all of nature. Thank you so much for sharing your great talent! Voted up.

vocalcoach~

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 23, 2011:

Thank you so much for reading the poem and for the kind comment, Tina. I agree with you - autumn is a time for reflection.

Christina Lornemark from Sweden on November 23, 2011:

Thanks for this lovely poem Alicia! I also like the autumn because I like the silence and the changes in nature that you describe so beautifully. It is a season when we get time to think about things while nature are transforming once again. This poem is a fantastic tribute to autumn and the cycle of all living. Amazing job, voted up and beautiful

Tina

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 22, 2011:

Thank you very much, CMHypno. I've always lived in an area with distinct seasons, and like you I don't think I would like living in an area where the weather is quite similar all year long. I enjoy following the cycle of nature too.

CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on November 22, 2011:

Its a beautiful poem Alicia. I like the light and the colours of Autumn, and although I love the sun, I'm not sure whether I would really be happy living in a place where the trees never shed their leaves or the days never lengthened or shortened. I think that it gives you a knowing about life cycles and the rhythms of nature

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 20, 2011:

Hi, Becky. Thanks for reading the poem and for the comment. Yes, there can be a penetrating cold in late autumn, but I wear lots of warm clothes, including thick mittens, a hat and thick socks to keep me warm, and waterproof clothes on a wet day, so that I'm comfortable. If I misjudge the weather and don't wear appropriate clothing, though, it can be unpleasant! I usually take mittens and a hat in a very small backpack when I walk in case I need them. Just these two items can make me feel a lot warmer when I'm cold!

Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on November 20, 2011:

This is a beautiful poem. I still do not like late Autumn though. My biggest problem with it is that I do not like the cold.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 19, 2011:

Thank you for the comment and the votes, Chatkath. We get definite season changes in British Columbia, but where I live on the southwestern coast the weather is milder than in other parts of the province, and spring begins earlier.

Kathy from California on November 19, 2011:

What wonderful Autumn thoughts Alicia, I love this time of year, being in California I think we miss out on many of the seasonal changes and cycles! Lovely poem! Up and beautiful!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 19, 2011:

Hi, mar. Thanks a lot for the visit, the comment and the votes!

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on November 19, 2011:

Freedom from control reveals

A world much wider than before.

Dear Alicia,

I appreciate this season and the depth of your reflections in this thought provoking work.

Amazing job-- Voted UP & AB, mar.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 19, 2011:

Thank you for reading my poem, Maren Morgan M-T. I appreciate your comment.

Maren Elizabeth Morgan from Pennsylvania on November 19, 2011:

I felt I was there with you.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 19, 2011:

Thank you for the comment and vote, Eddy! I hope that you have a great weekend too.

Eiddwen from Wales on November 19, 2011:

An amazing hub and a vote up is a must.

Tank you so much for sharing Alicia.

Take care and I wish you a wonderful weekend.

Eddy.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 18, 2011:

Hi, carcro. Thank you very much for the comment and the vote! Yes, I enjoy autumn. Each season is pleasant in its own way, and I like experiencing the cycle of the year.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 18, 2011:

Hi, Nell. Yes, quantum physics is a fascinating - and puzzling - subject! There is certainly a lot that scientists don't know or understand about matter. I love reading about quantum physics, even though it can be mind-boggling!

Paul Cronin from Winnipeg on November 18, 2011:

I love Autumn too, its great to live in a climate where we are witness to the changing of the seasons and the renew of spring every year. Great hub and poem, voted up!

Nell Rose from England on November 18, 2011:

Hi, Alicia, I am one of those people that do believe atoms have a 'conciousness' if you like, I love quantum physics and have a great interest in the old 'look at the atom and it does one thing, turn away and it does another' experiment, so yes I believe trees and plants do have some sort of 'memory' or 'thought' pattern, and I loved your poem, I also wrote a similar poem about a tree that was falling down and felt sad! great stuff, cheers nell

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 17, 2011:

Thank you for the comment and the votes, Peggy. Yes, like you I think that there is beauty in nature at any time of year!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 17, 2011:

I loved that...forgetting then remembering...death and rebirth...the cycle goes on...

There is beauty in all stages of nature and your poem elicits that. Voted up and beautiful.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 17, 2011:

Thank you so much for reading the poem and for the lovely comment, drbj. I appreciate your visit.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on November 17, 2011:

"The leaves fall far away, in grace ..." Beautiful. You have conjured up a vision of late fall and early winter that is lovely, Alicia. Thank you for this treat.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 17, 2011:

Thanks a lot, sestasik. It's great to meet you!

sestasik on November 17, 2011:

Lovely. Voted up and beautiful!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 17, 2011:

Thank you, writer20! I appreciate your comment and the votes very much.

Joyce Haragsim from Southern Nevada on November 17, 2011:

Wonderful poems. Vote up and awesome.