Autumn—A Spectacular Time of Year
AUTUMN is a special time of year. It is a time when, in temperate lands, blue skies, sunny days, and cool nights gradually paint the wooded hills a hundred hues of yellow, orange, and red. It is a time when evergreen pines and cedars provide a sober backdrop for the vivid reds and yellows of their deciduous cousins—trees that shed their leaves.
Autumn is particularly appreciated in Oriental countries such as Japan and Korea. In Japan people often go “hunting for the autumn colors”—their expression for going on autumn excursions that allow them to admire nature’s art.
Many national parks in Korea reach their peak of beauty at this time of the year. So newspapers keep the public informed regarding the best time to see the autumn colors. Soraksan, one of Korea’s most famous national parks, is a favorite destination. Its granite cliffs and towering outcrops adorned with clinging pine trees seem to be the very essence of an Oriental landscape. In the autumn the granite monoliths of Soraksan are garlanded with a fiery necklace of beech and maple trees. And when these peaks emerge from a sea of morning mist, the early riser is rewarded with a sight he will never forget.
“I always enjoy walking in the mountains, but especially in the autumn,” explains Park Ii-kyun, a lively Korean in his 70’s. “In the autumn it seems that God has clothed the hills with many colors—colors that change from day to day, colors that come to life under our clear autumn skies.” His wife, Kông-young, delights in watching autumn leaves flutter from the sky like golden butterflies.
Why Do Leaves Change Color?
To the curious mind, this colorful transformation demands an explanation. What determines whether a leaf will turn yellow or red?
Autumn colors are part of the process by which trees prepare for the winter. The shorter days of autumn alert the tree’s internal clock to begin cutting off the supply of water and nutrients to the leaves. Each leaf responds by constructing a separation layer at the base of the stalk. This layer—composed of a corklike substance—blocks off any circulation from the leaf to the rest of the tree and causes the leaf eventually to fall off the tree.
While this process is going on, carotenoid pigments begin giving leaves their yellow or orange color. These pigments are usually present throughout the summer, but they go unnoticed because of the predominant green chlorophyll in the leaves. The red color, on the other hand, comes mainly from anthocyanin, a pigment that the leaves do not produce until the autumn. During autumn, chlorophyll breaks down and the yellow and red pigments take center stage. When there is no chlorophyll left, a poplar leaf turns bright yellow but a maple leaf takes on a brilliant red color.
Searching for a Spectacular Autumn
Most lovers of nature have noticed that the autumn display varies somewhat from year to year and from place to place. Much has to do with the type of deciduous trees in the region. Different species of maple trees, for example, produce some of the most striking red colors. Many species of these trees grow naturally in the Orient, and they are frequently planted in parks and gardens.
Another factor is the climate—the amount of anthocyanin produced by the leaves depends much on the weather. Clear, sunny days and cool nights enable the leaves to produce a maximum amount of anthocyanin. Autumns in the Far East usually provide these conditions. Both Japan and Korea are mountainous countries. Many of their hills are forested with a variety of deciduous trees, thus providing visitors an ideal environment for viewing the autumn colors.
An Elegant Recycling Process
The whole process whereby trees shed their leaves is practical as well as beautiful. By discarding their leaves, trees conserve water and energy during the winter. They also rid themselves of toxic wastes that build up in the leaves during the summer.
What happens to the billions of leaves that fall on the ground? Thanks to insects, fungi, worms, and other soil animals, all this organic material is soon converted into humus, a vital ingredient of fertile soil. So after providing a dazzling spectacle, the fallen leaves also provide fertilizer for new growth in the spring! Can you imagine a more attractive recycling process? When pausing to admire such handiwork, we may sense that ‘the trees of the field are all clapping their hands’ as they give silent praise to their Maker.—Isaiah 55:12; Psalm 148:7-9.