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It's a Beautiful Day, Fall Colors, How and Why
October 20, 2008

Before I start this week's newsletter, I would like to thank you and everyone for your support.

It means so much to me.

Besides all of your uplifting support, we didn't lose a single reader last week, which is a first.

The weather has been ideal for.

October in Michigan can bring all sorts of weather.

80 plus degree days or an early snow storm.

Usually it is some where in between.

Much of this past week had temperatures hanging near 60 degrees, give or take a few.

There was some rain, but we've had lots of sunshine.

Still no killing frost in my little corner of the world.

I'm enjoying the blooms, but it slows down fall clean up.

I think the ideal Autumn day has some cool crisp air and the warmth of the sun at the same time.

You can feel both extremes and smell the fresh air all in the same moment.

It's leaf killing time for Keet.

Anything that moves while we are on our walk is fair game and this time of year it is countless tree leaves.

One a windy day, she doesn't know where to go or what to chase first.

As you can see by the picture, Ziggy the poodle pup is a bit bummed out because Akita seems to get most of the ink.

Ziglet is a bit of a pansy when it comes to walks.

We're still working on it.

Have you had the chance to take in some migration?

It doesn't have to be a flock flying over, it can be birds congregating in an open field, marsh or your yard.

There was a bumper crop of Goldfinches this season and I sure enjoyed the longer than usual fledgling season.

Because Goldies are 99.9% seed eating birds, Nesting coincides with weeds, flowers, etc. going to seed, so there is a food supply for nestlings and fledglings.

Some years when things are right, Goldfinches will have a couple of nests.

Mom will let dad take care of the first batch of fledglings while she sneaks off with another to have a second brood.

Even here in Michigan where seasons can change fast.

Only recently has the noise of fledged Goldfinches quieted down.

I do love hearing them.

There must be something in the water......................

I have a pair of Northern cardinals that are bringing three fledglings to the feeders the past few days.

In mid October?

Again, rare but not unheard of.

It sure adds to watching the birds and Yolanda (brain injured daughter) gets a kick out of it.

We have to remind her about the birds, but she likes cardinals and she tells us how cardinals always liked our yard :-)

Sometimes she lets us know when one is at her feeder.

Robins are becoming more abundant as they continue to come out of their summer hang outs.

Families and flocks of Canada geese and mallard ducks still fill the evening skies as they go from pond to pond.

The local Great blue heron is a common sight as well.

Gone are the White crowned sparrows.

They are a joy for the short time they stop to visit us.

With the last mini series on migration, I forgot that Ziggy had a special day.

Ziggy the poodle pup became Ziggy the one year old dog.

The picture has Ziggy acting surprised.

(Say what? A special day just for me?)

Yes Ziglet, a special day just for you.

No party hats, however.

Continue fall clean up and grooming.

If you are like me, anytime outside is a good time.

Listening and watching the sights and sounds of nature.

Go for a walk or even a drive to enjoy Autumn.

Here in my neck of the woods, fall colors are rapidly hitting their peak.

Now your colors may be past peak or haven't started yet, but get out there and enjoy your surroundings.

Do you remember collecting several colorful leaves from different trees and carefully placing them between two sheets of wax paper?

You or your mom pressed the hot iron to melt the wax and you had a collage of colorful foliage that would last you for however long you wanted it.

Maybe you pressed leaves between a bunch of books.

Encyclopedia's always worked at our house.

If you don't have kids or grand kids to use as an excuse to go out and have some fun with, than by golly..........................

Find the kid in you and just do it.

Find a farmers market.

Walk through a corn field maze.

Wonder a pumpkin patch.

Is there an apple orchard near by?

Autumn's beauty may be fleeting, but what a show "Nature" can put on.

If you didn't know by know, this week's letter is on fall color.

How and why leaves change colors.


It's time for a refresher course in some basic science plus a couple of things you may not know.

Now this may not have a lot to do with wildlife gardening, but it is Autumn and falls colors can dominate.

Then again, leaves changing colors and dropping just might have something to do with wildlife.

Stick around.

Either way, I needed an easy week.

I hope you don't mind. Enjoy.

Leaves are nature's food factories.

Plants take water and oxygen from the ground through their roots.

They take a gas called carbon dioxide from the air.

Plants then use sunlight to turn water and carbon dioxide into glucose.

Plants use glucose ( a kind of sugar) as food for energy and as a building block for growing.

The way plants turn water and carbon dioxide into sugar is called "Photosynthesis."

That "word" we all learned about at one time or another.

It means "putting together with light."

A chemical called chlorophyll helps make "Photosynthesis" happen.

You know that Chlorophyll is what gives plants their green color.

But what about Autumn Colors?

If you are fortunate, you live in one of those parts of the world where Nature has one last fling before settling down into winter's sleep.

In these places, days shorten and temperatures become crisp.

God breaks out his palette and paint brushes.

(Michigan's Brockway Mountain)

The quiet green of summer foliage is transformed into the vivid Autumn reds, oranges, yellows, golds, and browns before the leaves fall off the trees.

On special years, the colors are truly breathtaking.

For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that happen to trees and shrubs in the autumn.

Although we don't know all the details, we do know enough to explain the basics and help you to enjoy more fully "Nature's" multicolored autumn farewell.

Three factors influence autumn leaf color.

Leaf pigments.

Length of night.

And the weather.

But not quite in the way you may think.

The timing of color change and leaf fall are primarily regulated by the calendar, that is, the increasing length of night.

None of the other environmental influences-temperature, rainfall, food supply, and so on-are as unvarying as the steadily increasing length of night during autumn.

As days grow shorter, and nights grow longer and cooler.

Biochemical processes in the leaf begin to paint the landscape with "Nature's" autumn colors.

Where do autumn colors come from?

A color palette needs pigments, and there are three types that are involved in Autumn color.

The quiet green of summer foliage is transformed into the vivid autumn reds, oranges, yellows, golds, and browns before the leaves fall off the trees.

On special years, the colors are truly breathtaking.

(Porcupine Mountains, Michigan)

"Chlorophyll," which gives leaves their basic green color.

It is necessary for photosynthesis, the chemical reaction that enables plants to use sunlight to manufacture sugars for their food.

Trees in the temperate zones store these sugars for their winter dormant period.

"Carotenoids," which produce yellow, orange, and brown colors in such things as corn, carrots, and daffodils, as well as rutabagas, buttercups, and bananas.

"Anthocyanins," which give color to such familiar things as cranberries, red apples, concord grapes, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, and plums. They are water soluble and appear in the watery liquid of leaf cells.

Both chlorophyll and carotenoids are present in the chloroplasts of leaf cells throughout the growing season.

Most anthocyanins are produced in the autumn, in response to bright light and excess plant sugars within leaf cells.

During the growing season, chlorophyll is continually being produced and broken down and leaves appear green.

Phosphate is at a high level.

Phosphate has a vital role in the breakdown of the sugars manufactured by chlorophyll.

But in the fall, phosphate, along with the other chemicals and nutrients, moves out of the leaf into the stem of the plant.

When this happens, the sugar-breakdown process changes, leading to the production of anthocyanin pigments.

As night length increases in the autumn, chlorophyll production slows down and then stops and eventually all the chlorophyll is destroyed.

The brighter the light during this period, the greater the production of anthocyanins and the more brilliant the resulting color display that we see.

When the days of autumn are bright and cool, and the nights are chilly but not freezing, the brightest colorations usually develop.

The carotenoids and anthocyanins that are present in the leaf are then unmasked and show their colors.

The carotenoids occur, along with the chlorophyll pigments, in tiny structures called "plastids" within the cells of leaves.

Sometimes they are in such abundance in the leaf that they give a plant a yellow-green color, even during the summer.

But usually we become aware of their presence for the first time in autumn, when the leaves begin to lose their chlorophyll.

Certain colors are characteristic of particular species.

Oaks turn red, brown, or russet;

Hickories turn golden bronze;

Aspen and yellow-poplar, are a golden yellow.

Dogwood turn purplish red;

Beech, light tan.

Sourwood and black tupelo turn crimson.

Maples differ species by species-red maple turns brilliant scarlet

Sugar maple, orange-red; and black maple, glowing yellow.

Striped maple becomes almost colorless.

Leaves of some species such as the elms simply shrivel up and fall, exhibiting little color other than drab brown.

Are you getting them idea here?

The timing of the color change also varies by species.

Sourwood in southern forests can become vividly colorful in late summer while all other species are still vigorously green.

Oaks put on their colors long after other species have already shed their leaves.

These differences in timing among species seem to be genetically inherited, for a particular species at the same latitude will show the same coloration in the cool temperatures of high mountain elevations at about the same time as it does in warmer lowlands.

How does weather affect autumn color?

The amount and brilliance of the colors that develop in any particular autumn season are related to weather conditions that occur before and during the time the chlorophyll in the leaves is dwindling.

The best places in the world for viewing fall colors is probably the Eastern United States and Michigan's western Upper Peninsula. (Porcupinre Pine Mountains with Lake Superior in the background)

This is because of the climate there, and the wide variety of deciduous trees.

The brightest colors are seen when late summer is dry, and autumn has bright sunny days and cool (low 40's Fahrenheit) nights. Then trees make a lot of anthocyanin pigments.

A fall with cloudy days and warm nights brings drab colors. And an early frost quickly ends the colorful display.

Temperature and moisture are the main influences.

A succession of warm, sunny days and cool, crisp but not freezing nights seems to bring about the most spectacular color displays.

During these days, lots of sugars are produced in the leaf but the cool nights and the gradual closing of veins going into the leaf prevent these sugars from moving out.

These conditions-lots of sugar and lots of light-spur production of the brilliant anthocyanin pigments, which tint reds, purples, and crimson.

Because carotenoids are always present in leaves, the yellow and gold colors remain fairly constant from year to year.

The amount of moisture in the soil also affects autumn colors.

Like the weather, soil moisture varies greatly from year to year.

The countless combinations of these two highly variable factors assure that no two autumns can be exactly alike.

A late spring, or a severe summer drought, can delay the onset of fall color by a few weeks.

A warm period during fall can also lower the intensity of autumn colors.

A warm wet spring, favorable summer weather, and warm sunny fall days with cool nights should produce the most brilliant autumn colors.

What triggers leaf fall?

In early autumn, in response to the shortening days and declining intensity of sunlight, leaves begin the processes leading up to their fall.

In late summer the veins that carry fluids into and out of the leaf are gradually closed off as a layer of special cork cells forms at the base of each leaf.

As this cork layer develops, water and mineral intake into the leaf is reduced, slowly at first, and then more rapidly.

It is during this time that the chlorophyll begins to decrease.

Often the veins will still be green after the tissues between them have almost completely change color.

These clogged veins trap sugars in the leaf and promote production of anthocyanins.

Once this separation layer is complete and the connecting tissues are sealed off, the leaf is ready to fall.

What does all this do for the tree?

Winter is a certainty that all vegetation in the temperate zones must face each year.

Perennial plants, including trees, must have some sort of protection to survive freezing temperatures and other harsh wintertime influences.

Stems, twigs, and buds are equipped to survive extreme cold so that they can reawaken when spring heralds the start of another growing season.

Tender leaf tissues, however, would freeze in winter, so plants must either toughen up and protect their leaves or dispose of them.

"Evergreens" keep most of their leaves during the winter.

They have special leaves, resistant to cold and moisture loss.

Some, like pine and fir trees, have long thin needles.

Others, like holly, have broad leaves with tough, waxy surfaces.

On very cold, dry days, these leaves sometimes curl up to reduce their exposed surface.

Evergreens may continue to photosynthesize during the winter as long as they get enough water, but the reactions occur more slowly at colder temperatures.

Side bar:

It is important to keep your evergreens hydrated throughout winter if possible.

If that isn't possible, water them until the snow really flies.

A hydrated evergreen is more apt to survive a cold winter, especially one that has been planted in the past couple of years.

Their needle-like or scale-like foliage is covered with a heavy wax coating and the fluid inside their cells contains substances that resist freezing.

Thus the foliage of evergreens can safely withstand all but the severest winter conditions, such as those in the Arctic.

On some evergreens, needles and leaves may survive for a years but eventually fall because of old age.

The leaves of broadleaved plants, on the other hand, are tender and vulnerable to damage.

These leaves are typically broad and thin and are not protected by any thick coverings.

The fluid in cells of these leaves is usually a thin, watery sap that freezes readily.

This means that the cells could not survive winter where temperatures fall below freezing.

Tissues unable to over winter must be sealed off and shed to ensure the plant's continued survival.

Thus leaf fall precedes each winter in the temperate zones as sap flow slows and trees go into hibernation.

Interesting Tidbits

Here is a bit of information I thought you might like, that I read a couple of years ago.

The scarlet leaves of the maple tree are a particularly awe-inspiring attraction for hikers and paddlers on lakes and rivers during the fall season.

Now, research suggests that there is more to the crimson of the leaves than meets the eye.

Researchers at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., report that the chemical responsible for the bright red color also acts as a competitive herbicide when it leaches into the ground.

The red helps to keep other like maples from growing and competing under or close to its self.

Another one of "Nature's" awesome wonders.

Summer's foliage changes colors and falls to the forest floor or we rake them and hopefully put them to good use.

Leaves are now food for many micro-organisms and offer food and protection for small mammals and insects.

Decaying leaves feed the trees and forest floor.

Insects offer food for birds and mammals.

Mammals become food fox, birds of prey, snakes etc.

The list goes on.

The circle of life goes on.

Many gardeners color coordinate the fall colors of trees and shrubs into their landscape.

You can add many of these fall colors in your wildlife landscape too.

Non-native burning bushes are pretty and offer protection and nest sights.

Native Viburnums are very colorful and offer food as well, some well into winter.

Serviceberries have brilliant fall colors.

What about native Dogwood and Sassafras trees.

There are so many native trees and shrubs that offer food, protection, a place to raise a family.

Natives also offer color and beauty for your pleasure as well.

This may not have been the science lesson you wanted or was looking for, but it is a part of nature and our backyards.

Here is one more tidbit.

Research shows and suggests that fall colors help birds with migration by finding food sources.

Learned and instinctive behaviors help birds to locate food by fall leaf coloration.

Certain shades of red or other colors mean certain fruits and berries.

An example would be:

Native shrubs and trees like Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) and Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) are good choices for naturalistic sites and can tolerate moist conditions.

The bright red fall color is matched by the plantís bright red berries, guaranteed to attract migrating birds.

It works for hummingbirds, why not other birds?

Birds know that certain colors mean food.

Creating wildlife habitats and birdscaping your yard just got a bit more fun and interesting, didn't it?

How wondrous that nothing goes unnoticed or goes to waste in the natural world.

It's amazing how God's wonders that can take our breath away and blow our mind at the same time.

Well, it's time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.

The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible -- and achieve it, generation after generation.

Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) American Writer

The young haven't heard the word impossible or haven't been beaten down by others.

The young haven't heard enough times that they can't do that or you aren't good enough to succeed.

The young person and the young at heart and mind believe they can so they do it.

Often, it takes a life time to believe in your self.

For me, it was the better part of 40 years that I was held back and once I became an adult, it was up to me.

Not my parents or anyone else, but me.

But I didn't know or understand that many things are possible and dreams can be reached.

Now I smile.

Smile, when you are told it's impossible or you can't do it.

The first step is believing in yourself.

The first step brings a smile to your face and you want to share that smile.

Sharing and helping others brings more success to you (a universal law) and you want to smile more.

You are now on a role.

You put fears aside and take strides you never dreamed possible.


Because you believe in yourself.

It's good that I believe in you and others may believe in you.

Until you believe in you, you are frozen and the smiles are few.

Smile this week and share them with others.

Believe in yourself and the smiles will be there.

Just like the circle of life, you are starting a circle of belief and success.

Smiles are one of life's easiest yet most effective things we can do.

Until next time my friend.

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers. Better yet, have them sign up so they can recieve their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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