Maple leaf

Why Do Leaves Change Colors in the Fall?

Example of leaves changing color.

Fall Changes

If you live in an area that has four seasons, you probably love the fall. It is a time when the weather turns cooler, the days get shorter, and in Virginia, the leaves of deciduous trees turn brilliant colors in preparation for the winter. Many people speculate why leaves change color, but the real reason is because the nights get longer and the amount of daylight decreases. 

Why are leaves green?

In order to understand why leaves change colors, I have to explain a little bit about leave biology. During the growing season, leaves of deciduous trees are filled with chlorophyll. Photosynthesis is the process where chlorophyll absorbs energy from the sun to transform carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates such as starches and sugars, that the tree uses for food. The chlorophyll is constantly replenished during the growing season because it fades or breaks down from exposure to the sunlight. 

An example of green leaves.

Maple leaves filled with chlorophyll showing their bright green color.

Leaf pigment colors

Leaves also have or make pigments. This is what gives the leaves colors other than green.

 Carotenoids - oranges

Anthophylls - yellows

Anthocyanins - reds, purples, and blues

Tannins - browns  

Fall leaves
Red, orange, yellow and purple pigments.

Leaf color changing simplified

When the nights reach a certain length trees start to prepare for winter. At the place where the stem and leaf meet, called the abscission layer, the cells start to divide quickly and they block the transport of food (carbohydrates) and minerals to the leaf. When this happens, the production of chlorophyll stops and the green color disappears. This is when xanthophylls and carotenoids (yellows and oranges) that are always present in leaves begin to be seen. Anthocyanins are created from the sugars trapped in the leaves as the chlorophyll disappears. 

Examples of leaf colors

Interesting example of 3 distinct leaf colors on one tree and multiple colors on the same tree. Temperature and moisture impact the types and intensity of colors and the duration of the autumn color show!

Maple leaves in the fall
Beautiful fall maple leaves
Multicolored sassafras leaves.

Beautiful sassafras leaves

Sassafras leaves turn a variety of colors. They aren't as prevalent as maples, but where they are present, they add excellent color. 

Dogwood leaves

An example of the characteristic purples and reds of dogwood trees.

Dogwood tree changing colors.
Example of a poplar tree leaf. changing color.

Poplar greens & yellows

Poplar trees usually only turn from green to yellow then brown due to the pigments present. 

An oak leaf slowly changing it's color.

Oak leaves change into a variety of browns, tans, and yellows.

Oak leaf starting to change color.
Spruce Knob

A hike in the trees: Spruce Knob

Another great hike; Spruce Knob WVA

Click on a photo to scroll through the pictures. It helps get the full effect of the hike!

Spruce Knob is a great place to go to explore the vast beauty of West Virginia. 

Hiking through the forest filled with spruce trees and moss is like hiking in another land.

If you enjoy hiking, beautiful forests, and scenery, this is a great place to go.

The Monogahela National Forest is amazing and relatively untouched. Spruce Knob is the

tables point in West Virginia at 4862. Click here to get a description of the hiking route. 

Be prepared to camp at Seneca Rocks or Spruce Knob. If camping isn't your thing, stay at

Snow Shoe Mountain and enjoy some of their summer activities. There is downhill mountain

biking, hiking, boating, and much more. If you are really ambitious, check out Seneca Rocks

on the way. This is another funhike that doesn't disappoint!

Happy hiking! Get out and enjoy the beauty of nature!

Vic's Tree Service

Sassafras tree leaves

Sassafras Tree Tea Anyone?

Sassafras Trees

 

 

 

 

 

Scientific Classification for Sassafras Trees

Kingdom: Plantae

Clade: Andiosperms

Clade: Magnoliids

Order: Laurales

Family: Lauraceae

Genus: Sassafras.

Species: Sassafras albidum (usually found in the Eastern United States)

                Sassafras hersperia

                Sassafras randaiense

                Sassafras tzumu

                Sassafras yabei. 

Sassafras Trees in a natural environment.

Sassafras trees in the forest.

Sassafras seedlings and mature trees along the Tuscarora Trail

Description of Sassafras Tree

Sassafras trees are deciduous and grow from 30 to over 100 feet. The trees in this picture are on the smaller side due to the elevation. In lower areas, they grow more taller. The bark is smooth and relatively indistinct. The tree is easy to identify because of it's classic leaf patter that is present on all trees. The leaves are either unilobed, bilobed (mitten shaped) or trilobed (three pronged in photos). On rare occasions a five lobed leaf maybe spotted. the young leaves, twigs, and roots produce a wonderful citrus-like scent when crushed. Some of the species produce flowers. They also produce a fruit called a drupe. It is too bad that Sassafras Trees are not that common in landscaping. They provide unique variety due to the shape of the leaves and the tree's interesting growing pattern. 

Value to the Ecosystem

Sassafras trees provide a minor forest food source. Deer eat a fair amount of Sassafras as well as many other forest mammals. Animals eat all parts of the tree including leaves, bark, twigs, stems, and fruits. 

Deer in the forest.
Homemade Sassafras tea.

Uses for Sassafras Trees

Before modern medicine became readily available, all  parts of the Sassafras tree were used for a variety of medicinal purposes including treating inflammation, as a pain reliever, increasing immunity, detoxifying (a diuretic), and an energy booster. Until a few decades ago, it was still used to flavor root beer. Unfortunately, Sassafras root bark contains safrole, which is a volatile oil that was banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the 1960s due to carcinogenic properties. According to the FDA, in order for Sassafras from a tree to be considered safe, the safrole must be removed. Of course, there is more to the toxicity of safrole than meets the eye. It is the concentrated essential oil of safrole that is considered dangerous. Most people will never come in contact with the concentrated essential oil. Sassafras tea is easy to brew, looks pretty, and tastes lovely, whether you drink it or not is up to you!

Safe Tree Removal

Tree removal safety; large tree removal.

Tree Removal Safety

At Vic's Tree Service, tree removal safety is one of our main concerns. There is almost nothing about tree removal 

that is not dangerous. That is why the industry has some of the highest workman's compensation rates. 

Our employees are periodically trained and reminded of workplace safety precautions. We monitor the use of safety 

equipment daily. Hardhats, protective pants and steel toed boots are standard gear for our employees.

Quality

We take pride in being able to remove trees of any size. There are some established residential areas in Northern 

Virginia that have large, old, mature trees that have outgrown their space. There is also new construction around

mature trees that sometimes ends up in failure for the trees due to construction damage. When large trees are in

tight locations with little space to work, we sometimes use a crane to assist with the tree removal. The crane allows us to cut the

tree into large sections and safely lower them to the ground with no damage to the area around the tree. 

Inquiries

Considering removing a tree? Want expert advice based on 39 years of field experience? Contact Vic's Tree Service. Under the 

same ownership since it's inception. There aren't many businesses that can make that claim.

Vic's Tree Service

 

Tree Service Worker's Compensation

Growth Rings – What tree removal reveals.

Annual Growth Rings on Trees - What Tree Removal Reveals

Growth Rings
What tree removal reveals.

Almost everyone knows that when a tree trunk is cut in half, it reveals the annual growth rings. Contrary to popular beliefs, each ring doesn't necessarily represents a year of the tree’s growth.

Dead read oak
Cross section of large red oak down near Elizabeth Furnace, Front Royal, VA.

Like most things in nature, trees have a specific way of adding growth rings. Growth rings are only added during the growing season. During the winter, the tree is dormant and doesn’t increase in diameter. The first wood cells laid down on the ring are usually lighter in color than wood laid down at the end of the growing season. That wood is darker in color and the cells are smaller with thicker cell walls. The oldest rings are towards the center of the  trunk and the newest rings are on the outside layer closest to the bark. Only the outer 1.5-7.5 cm of growth rings are alive. The remainder are inactive and a dead part of the tree. This wood is called the heartwood. One of it's major functions is to provide structural support for the tree.

Old oak tree with approximately 300 growth rings.Cross section of a Chestnut Oak tree that fell over and was removed in McLean, VA. It has about 300 rings. The photo clearly shows the outer most rings that are alive vs. the dead heartwood.

You can count the rings, and get a pretty accurate estimate of the tree's age. Pretty cool huh? A.E. Douglass invented a cool technique to use tree rings do gain knowledge about past climate changes. Dendrochronology is the science of dating and studying tree rings. Using this data, in conjunction with other data, can provide a way to recreate prior events in a specific area.

Cross section of a dead standing Oak that was removed from McLean, VA. The outer most layers of rings are dead and harboring decay inducing pathogens.

Rings on a tree indicate more than just the tree’s age. The size and shape of the rings can give clues to environmental changes that impacted the tree’s growth. Narrower rings may indicate years when growth was minimized due to poor weather conditions, lack of sun, physical damage to foliage, fire or drought. Usually, the inner most rings are wider and more vigorous in size compared to the outermost rings.

Cross section of a Hickory log.
Cross section of a live Hickory tree removed from Springfield, VA. This tree has about 110 rings. The uneven growth of the rings could be a sign of weather changes, stress, etc.
Example of missing heartwood.
Tree with missing heartwood at it's base.

References:

Dendrochronology

Forest Academy - Annual Growth Rings

How a Tree Grows

Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research

A Hike in the Woods: Northern Virginia

One of our favorite hikes

Hiking in Norther Virginia

At Vic's Tree Service we don't just take care of trees because it's our business, we appreciate the beauty of trees in the wild. We enjoy a great hike through a beautiful, and if we are lucky, magnificent forest. I find a lot of great hikes on this site, although I don't think this one is in there. The picture above is from one of our favorite hiking spots in Northern Virginia. I won't give away the location, but the photos may make you wonder where so close in town could a forest so old and beautiful still exist. 

A walk in the woods

This almost looks like it should be in the ocean and not on a tree. Beautiful to look at, but signals decay. 

A walk in the woods

The blue bells return every spring and bring an amazing burst of color. If you are wondering, the hiking trails have various levels of difficulty. There is almost something for everyone. There is one unavoidable hill climb on the way out, so be prepared. It is definitely worth the work. 

It looks like fairy dust. All of the seasons are different and amazing, but spring is almost magical. In the winter there is complete visibility along the hiking trails. In the summer, the trails close in, and the hike has a completely different feel. 

Hiking in Northern Virginia

     Unfortunately, the photos don't do the trees in this forest justice. They can't show enough perspective to get a real

     feel for the trees.  I guess you'll have to go visit to see for yourself. Email to find out the location.

Hike in the woods near the water

     Darn dogs almost ruined my photo!

     Enjoy!

     Vic's Tree Service