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The Science of Fall Color

Five leaves next to each other for leaf experiment

The Science of Fall Color

For almost all of the growing season, leaf color is dominated by chlorophyll. For good reason: chlorophyll is the pigment of photosynthesis. At the end of summer, other pigments accumulate in the leaves of deciduous plants. As the chlorophyll breaks down in the fall, the other leaves show and create the beautiful fall displays we all know and love.
These colors can be isolated by using a scientific technique called chromatography. We made a simple extract using the leaves and chemical liquid. Then we used paper to wick that liquid up and show the colors. The more soluble the pigment, the higher it moved up the paper.
Using chromatography, we can see ALL of the colors in these leaves. Xanthophylls bring the yellows, carotenoids the oranges, and anthocyanins the reds and blues. In some pictures, especially the still-green pawpaw leaf, you can see not one but TWO types of chlorophyll! The blue green one is chlorophyll A, the yellow green one is chlorophyll B.
We hope you enjoy seeing all of the changing leaves in Cincinnati Parks. When visiting, be sure to take some pictures and tag us on social media.
yellow and brown maple leaf science experiment
green paw paw leaf
dark brown dogwood leaf
orange, yellow and brown maple leaf
yellow and brown spotted paw paw leaf
maple and paw paw leaves next to each other