PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Many people love the fall because of the colors foliage becomes before they drop their leaves.
These colors are a nice change, since most of the time we see the leaves in their green phase.
That is because of the chlorophyll in the leaves.
It is the pigment that gives plants their green color, and it helps a plant make its own food through photosynthesis.
When you look at a green leaf, there are colors you’re not seeing, though.
Those would be the yellow and orange hues that seem to be the official color theme of autumn.
These yellows and oranges are cause by xanthophyll (yellow) and carotene (orange).
These help absorb sunlight, which is then transferred to chlorophyll for photosynthesis, and are in the leaf all spring and summer.
They are hidden, though, because the production of chlorophyll is so abundant that it hides these other colors.
Once the days get shorter, and temperatures start cooling, trees start to get ready for the upcoming winter by stopping the production of chlorophyll, letting the other colors shine through.
We can find those hidden colors in a green leaf with an easy experiment.
First, find some green leaves, and chop them into the tiniest pieces you can.
Cover them in rubbing alcohol.
Now grind those leaf pieces up.
It is easy to use the handle of a wooden spoon or spatula.
You can also grind the leaves before adding the rubbing alcohol if you’re afraid of a spill.
Cover that with plastic wrap to keep it from evaporating.
Now set that container in a bigger container with hot water in it.
This is a process that will start separating the chlorophyll from the xanthophyll and carotenes.
After about 40-50 minutes, set a strip of coffee filter with one tip in the mixture and the other end out.
After about an hour, when you check back, you can see the colors separated on the coffee filter.
Now, you can see what is hiding in those green leaves!
If you have been paying attention, you may have noticed that red leaves have not been mentioned yet.
Leaves that turn red are from anthocyaninns.
These are a bit different, because they are not always in a leaf, and not all trees produce them.
When anthocyanins are present, though, they make for a beautiful pop of color.
You can reproduce the experiment in this article with the other colored leaves, too.
You will certainly get different results.
I have seen some where the reds showed up very nicely on the coffee filter.
In my experiment, however, it is barely noticeable.
Hopefully, yours will be brighter.