Fall Fire: Autumn foliage at its most vivid – Part 1

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Legend Weekend: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
November 9, 2008
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OK, I am digressing to my former life. I was a biology major in college and for many years pursued a career as a research scientist. I still teach at the undergraduate level as an adjunct professor. One of my favorite labs teaches students why leaves change color in the fall. When student’s crush green leaves into a solvent – and separate the pigments using a process called “paper chromatography” the different colored pigments separate out from the green chlorophyll – showing the wide array of color pigments that leaves possess. The pigments are there (carotenoids and anthrocyanins) even when the leaf is green, but you can’t see them because the amount of green chlorophyll simply overwhelms them.

As summer turns to fall, the days grow shorter and the chlorophyll starts to break down. This allows the other pigments in all their splendor to be revealed. Some years, the “show” is more vivid.

This was a particularly good year. It was dry, but not too dry. When its too dry, the leaves turn very brown and the yellows and reds aren’t so vivid. When it is too wet, the colors are often muted. This fall has been like a fireworks display. So I’m showing a few pictures from a walk I took at the Rockefeller Preserve in Sleepy Hollow. It would be hard to take a bad picture with this kind of display.

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