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What Produces the Different Colors in Tree Leaves?

Green Pigments = Chlorophyll

  • During the spring and summer, the green chlorophyll pigments dominate and mask out other pigments in the leaf.

Yellow Pigments = Carotenoids

  • Carotenoids are pigments that have been present in the leaf cells all the time during the leaf’s life. They provide the yellow that leaves exhibit when the chlorophylls are not present.

Red or Purple Pigments = Anthocyanins

  • Anthocyanins are pigments that form in the cell sap of some species in late summer and fall. The combination of dwindling chlorophylls a nd resulting sugar breakdown, along with bright sunlight, cool temperatures, and transfer of phosphorus from the leaf to the stems, produces the red and purple anthocyanin pigments seen in maples and other species.

Brown Pigments = Tannins

  • Tannins cause the brown hues often seen in trees like oaks. Tannins actually act as a defense system for plants against pathogens, herbivores and poor environmental conditions.

Orange = Carotenoids and Anthocyanins

  • It is the combination of the two pigments that bring out orange colors in trees.

Here is a video from our friends at Davy Tree explaining why leaves change color.