Red In Fall Leaves – Chemical Warfare?  

Left: red maple; Right: Oak. The red colors are produced by anthocyanin molecules. Research shows red maple anthocyanin can destroy other plant seeds.
Left: red maple; Right: Oak. The red colors are produced by anthocyanin molecules. Research shows red maple anthocyanin can destroy other plant seeds.

October 10, 2005  Hamilton, New York - Colgate University biology professor, Frank Frey, and graduate student, Maggie Eldridge, report new research about trees that produce red leaves, such as maples and oaks, that might be trying to destroy all other tree seeds in the area.

"Foliage changes color in autumn when chlorophyll in leaf cells (green color) breaks down and exposes the pigments that remain, such as carotenoid pigments which appear yellow or orange. But the story is different for maples and a handful of other trees whose leaves turn scarlet. The anthocyanin pigments in maple foliage are actually manufactured by the trees - rather than simply revealed - at a time of year when the organisms can't afford to use up a lot of metabolic energy for such a complex process."

 

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