It’s as if a magic brush painted the northern New England landscape with every conceivable shade of vibrant red, orange and yellow this past week. The major player in this phenomenon is chlorophyll, the pigment that gives leaves their green coloration during spring and summer. Chlorophyll is able to absorb from sunlight the energy that is used in transforming carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrates, such as sugars and starch, inside cell-like structures called chloroplasts, a process referred to as photosynthesis. But in the fall, because of changes in the length of daylight and changes in temperature, the leaves stop their food-making process. Chlorophyll breaks down and the green color of leaves disappears, revealing colors that have been masked by the chlorophyll all summer (as well as reds manufactured in the fall). Imagine a world without chlorophyll, where the bright golds, purples, yellows, oranges and reds of autumn leaves would be the natural colors seen in spring, summer and fall.
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