Do you love pouring syrup over your pancakes? Are leaves turning bright colors in your neighborhood? There’s a good chance that the syrup and the bright fall colors all come from maple trees.
The Mini Page talked with the chief of forestry in Vermont to learn more about this wonderful tree.
Nature’s changing colors
In the fall, maple trees glow with the brightest colors of all trees. Summers with warm days and cooler nights produce the brightest fall colors.
Sometimes there are even more spectacular autumns when the summers have been dry. When there is little rain, fungi, or mildewlike organisms, don’t grow as much, so they don’t suck as much moisture from the trees.
Trees that are under stress from drought or insects sometimes change colors earlier in the fall. If conditions are really bad, they might go straight from green to brown, without changing to the reds and yellows.
All maple trees have papery wings attached to their seeds, which help them travel to new ground each fall. They are often called “helicopter seeds” because they spin in the wind.
Eastern North America and western Asia are the only places in the world where the native trees change to the full rainbow of reds, oranges and yellows in the fall. Both these areas have many maple trees.
The yellow and red hues of fall are actually the true colors of the leaves. In the summer, leaves contain a substance called chlorophyll (KLOR-uh-fil). This turns the leaves green, which covers the actual leaf colors.
In the fall, cooler temperatures signal the tree to stop producing chlorophyll. All the hidden colors pop out.
Chlorophyll helps shield the leaf from sun damage. But even more important, it helps the tree capture sunlight. Plants use sunlight to create food. This process is called photosynthesis (foe-toe-SIN-the-sis).
Chlorophyll is like an engine that uses sunlight to turn water and carbon dioxide into sugars the plant can eat. It produces oxygen as a waste product. Chlorophyll turns leaves into little factories that produce sugar and oxygen.