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John Wheeler: Autumn leaf colors are the plant's true colors

We all learned this in primary school, but the chemistry is actually quite complex.

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FARGO — Fall leaf color is spectacular. It is autumn's brevity, in part, which makes it so special. It is natural to crave more of what we can only have a little of. The interesting thing here, is that the brilliant display put on by deciduous leaves during these few short weeks of peak autumn color are actually the leave's true colors. During the growing season, the chemical reactions of photosynthesis takes carbon dioxide from the air and turns it into sugars to feed the plant, and as a by-product the plant produces oxygen.

We all learned this in primary school, but the chemistry is actually quite complex. Chlorophyll molecules use the red end of the visible light spectrum to power reactions inside each cell, while the unused green light is reflected from the leaf and we see that light. When the process stops in the fall, triggered by cooler weather and shorter days, are we able to see the leave's actual colors.

Related Topics: WEATHER
John Wheeler is Chief Meteorologist for WDAY, a position he has had since May of 1985. Wheeler grew up in the South, in Louisiana and Alabama, and cites his family's move to the Midwest as important to developing his fascination with weather and climate. Wheeler lived in Wisconsin and Iowa as a teenager. He attended Iowa State University and achieved a B.S. degree in Meteorology in 1984. Wheeler worked about a year at WOI-TV in central Iowa before moving to Fargo and WDAY..
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