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Why the leaves change color

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The beauty of autumn has been expressed as nature’s last fling before winter.  There are many stories that explain why leaves change color when the weather turns colder.  The following explanations offer both fantasy and truth in an effort to answer the familiar question about autumn leaves.

The Native Americans told a legend to explain why leaves change color in the fall.  They respected the bear.  One day celestial hunters killed the Great Bear.  The bear’s blood rained on the forests, coloring some of the leaves red.  When the hunters were cooking and the fat splashed out of the cooking kettle, the other leaves turned yellow.

The Cherokee Native Americans also had a legend about autumn leaves.  When only plants and animals were on earth, the Great Spirit told them that they would receive great power if they could stay awake for seven days and nights.  Only the pine and cedar trees were able to do so.  They were granted eternal color and power of night which allowed them to stay green and live all year long.  All the other trees had to change their colors, get rid of their leaves, and sleep during the winter.

Jack Frost is often given credit for the gorgeous changing of leaves in the fall.  He  pinches the leaves with his icy fingers and some leaves turn red. Then he goes from tree to tree with his paintbrush and adds yellow and orange colors. Of course, this only happens on frosty nights.

The truth about autumn leaves is that some of the colors in the leaves are always there.  The chlorophyll  that gives leaves their green color covers the orange and yellow in the leaves.  When shorter days and cooler temperatures arrive,  the trees know it is time to prepare for winter. They stop producing chlorophyll. The green color fades, and the orange and yellow pigments in the leaves are able to show.  The red colors are made in the leaves in the fall at the time when trees stop making their own food and go into a state of rest for the winter.

Both fantasy and truth enhance our enjoyment of autumn when they answer the mystery of why leaves change their colors.

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