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Journey with Nature

Why Leaves Change Color

Indiana's Leaf Cams

Wondering where to see the best autumn colors in the state? Check out Visit Indiana's Leaf Cam and see for yourself.

Visit Indiana has five webcams of outdoor scenes in  Fort Harrison State Park in Indianapolis, French Lick Resort, Brown County, the Corydon Capitol State Historic site and Spring Mill State Park in Mitchell - some of the best places to see the leaves change in the state.

Indiana's forests are a mix of various deciduous trees whose deep summer greens turn various hues of red, purple, orange and yellow. Why this seasonal change? The answer lies within their pigment.

There are three pigments found in all leaves that affect fall color:

  • chlorophyll - the green pigment found in almost all plants; chlorophyll is necessary for photosynthesis, a natural process that converts carbon dioxide and water into sugar, carbohydrates and oxygen using energy from sunlight.
  • carotenoids - gives the yellow, orange and brown color to plants such as carrots, pumpkins, maize and daffodils; carotenoid also helps assist in photosynthesis and protects chlorophyll from photodamage (damage by too much/intense light).
  • anthocyanins - the pigment that reflects either red, blue or purple - depending on the pH -  that gives color to such things as apples, cherries, blueberries and plums; both chlorophyll and carotenoids are always present, while anthocyanins are produced only in autumn.

The change in weather also plays an important factor. As autumn approaches and the days shorten, trees are reminded that winter is coming. With less and less sunlight to encourage photosynthesis, chlorophyll production slows until it stops. The trees go into a period of rest, or dormancy, and survive through the winter by living off the food they had stored during the summer months. Only when chlorophyll ceases production will carotenoids and anthocyanins become visible and show their bold colors.

Temperature and precipitation also influence the degree of how bright the fall color is and how long it will last. Low temperatures - above freezing - will produce more anthocyanin and bring out the bright reds; frost, however, will weaken the red hue. Though not the most preferable weather to go out and walk among the autumn trees, rainy and overcast days tend to bring out the intensity of fall colors. So bring an umbrella when hoping to capture the most brilliant of autumn scenes!

What Color to Which Tree?

Certain colors are characteristic to particular species of trees. The timing of the color change also varies by species, so don't expect to see all our deciduous trees change at once. The list below is just a few colors found on trees found throughout Indiana's landscape.

  • Oak species are anywhere between red, brown and russet in color.
  • Both Sourwoods & Black tupelo (or Black gum) turn a deep crimson.
  • Dogwoods are a pretty violet-red.
  • Aspen, Birch and Tulip poplars all turn a golden yellow.
  • Other trees that have yellow hues - Ash, Black walnut, Sycamore and Cottonwood.
  • Beeches are a light tan brown.
  • Hickories turn a golden bronze.
  • Maples can be seen in various colors; Red maples are a brilliant scarlet, Sugar maples are a bold orange-red and Black maples turn a bright yellow.
  • Buckeyes, Sassafras and Sweetgum also have leaves that vary in red, orange and yellow.

Enjoy the color while you can! Autumn colors occur for a brief period; peak colors generally develop in late September and can extend from October through early November.

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