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REDNESS IN DEATH

You must have observed the changing colors of leaves during changing seasons over the year around.

At the start, the leaves are yellow. During the spring and summer, the chlorophyll which helps in converting light to energy during photosynthesis and is green in color, overpowers the initial yellow color of the leave. This yellow or orange color due to helper chemicals like carotenes or carotenoids becomes visible again when leaves die in the fall due to weather events like rain or drought or due to temperature and daylight variations.

Sometimes when leaves die, they produce chemicals called anthocyanins that make a red pigment which combines with green pigment produced by chlorophyll and display different shades of red. This shade of red will depend upon the species the leave belong to, its genetic make-up, the environment in surrounding area – including the tree, forest, and individual leaves.

One of the questions scientists ponder upon is as to why leaves spend energy on turning red just before they die. The explanations range from dispersal of seeds by animals who eat them or it could signal that there isn’t much healthy to eat in their dead selves or it may warn others about the bad tasting and toxic defensive chemicals in red leaves or pests may prefer drab plants than the brighter ones. One of the best possible reasons for leaves turning red before leaf senescence is protection from bright light or UV light to avoid sun damage so that they can complete an important work on their way out like giving nutrients back to the tree or soil for later use.

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