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THE NATURAL WORLD


AUTUMN SPECTACULAR

Newton Aycliffe
Newton Aycliffe

What an exceptional Autumn (2003) for tree colours! This year's stunning hues seem to have rivalled, in intensity if not in scale, those of New England.

We also enjoyed a long, hot and dry Summer - is there a connection between these two events? The short answer is yes.

Hamsterley Forest
Hamsterley Forest

The colours which we see at this time of year - reds, oranges, browns and yellows - are present in those leaves throughout the year, so why do we only see them in Autumn?

Leaves have a job to do; they convert water from the soil and carbon dioxide from the air into food (sugars) for the plant to use as it grows. The process synthesises (builds) water and carbon dioxide into sugars using energy from light – it is called photosynthesis. This conversion needs a green substance called chlorophyll.

The chlorophyll hides the other colours in the leaves throughout the growing season, so most leaves appear to be just green during the Spring and Summer. As Autumn approaches, deciduous trees prepare to lose their leaves. The green chlorophyll breaks down into colourless substances and the other colours, hidden by the chlorophyll, come into view. These other colours are most intense when the leaves have a high sugar content. Our long, hot Summer has meant that the leaves this year are rich in sugars and therefore have lots of colour.

Hamsterley Forest
Hamsterley Forest

Maple trees, including the Japanese maples (acers), tend to be very good at producing sugars and so these give some of the most dramatic colours. North American people have, for hundreds of years, exploited the sugar producing property of the silver maple by making maple syrup. Native North Americans taught the European settlers how to tap this valuable resource.

New England
New England

A sudden cold spell also increases the quality of the display because many different trees change colour together. In New England, cold weather tends to arrive quickly and quite severely. There is also a high proportion of maple trees in the area. This is why that part of North America is renowned for its Fall foliage. Natural conditions affect the quality of the display however, and some years are much better than others.

Leaves - New England
Leaves - New England

Enjoy those colours; sadly, they won’t last.

Hamsterley Forest
Hamsterley Forest


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