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Why Turn Red?

Why Turn Red?

The autumn leaf is toast, but it still redecorates

By
10:12am, October 22, 2002
fall red leaves

Why leaves turn red is a stranger question than why they turn yellow.
 

A leaf turning red in the fall makes for a much greater mystery than a leaf turning yellow does. The yellowing signals simply a dropping of veils because the yellow pigment has lain hidden in the leaf during its long, green summer. When summer ends and the green pigments break down, the yellow shines through. Reds, however, don't loll around all summer. A leaf with only a few weeks left to hang on its tree summons its faltering resources for a burst of bright-red-pigment making.

What a time to redecorate. Cell physiologists have found a world inside an autumn leaf that resembles the pandemonium on a sinking ship. Metabolic pathways start to fail. Compounds break apart. Doomed cells rush to salvage the valuables, especially nitrogen, by

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