Look up from your cell phone. Please. The sky is on fire. Don’t miss it. Foliage is transitioning to flame and to tangerine and to ochre. These colors, hidden in summer, are becoming visible as …
Look up from your cell phone. Please. The sky is on fire. Don’t miss it. Foliage is transitioning to flame and to tangerine and to ochre. These colors, hidden in summer, are becoming visible as leaf green is absorbed.
It’s the opposite of what happens in spring.
In that season, new leaves turn green as trees cull a nutrient called chlorophyll from soil and use it to absorb the sun’s energy to produce growth sugar.
The process is called photosynthesis: The tree flourishes, we get shade.
In fall, the tree shlurps that leaf chlorophyll into storage cells in branches – the way bees store hive honey – to survive the winter.
As that happens the hidden bright leaf colors, many of which existed beneath the green, some of which are created by the change in temperature, take the stage.
“How beautiful, when a whole tree is like one great scarlet fruit full of ripe juices, every leaf, from lowest limb to topmost spire, all aglow, especially if you look toward the sun,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in Autumnal Tints.
Eventually, those bright leaves turn dull and the tree will literally force them from branches because they are no longer useful as a food source.
That’s called “abscission.”
The word is from the Latin for ab (away) and scindere (to cut), according to numerous science sources. Stronger cells in the tree kick weak cells away.
It’s similar to what happens in bee hives in autumn.
Drone bees, whose main job is to mate with the queen, are barred from the hive in autumn by worker bees (those that collect the honey) so there will be enough food for winter. The drones are locked out and die, much like those leaves.
Mysteries exist all about us.
The colorful life cycle of trees is a reminder of those that lie beneath every surface. It is also a reminder that age can often be even more radiant than youth.
Peak foliage will arrive soon – around the middle of this month in Rhode Island. It will paint Rose Larisa Memorial Park and Sabin Point in Riverside, Freedom Green Park in Rumford, Blackstone Boulevard in Providence, and maybe your backyard.
Please, look up from your cell phone for a minute. The sky is on fire.
— Shea-Taylor, of Providence, is journalist and previously served as moderator of the Weaver Library Socrates Café in East Providence.