Have you ever wondered what color of tree you are most like? Probably not, but fall is the time to see your true colors. There are lessons about ourselves intricately woven into the design of nature, if we will but stop and observe. Don’t miss this chance to stop and look at the changing leaves and learn a little something about yourself.
A simple understanding what makes a leaf a particular color in fall will allow you to discern which kind of tree you are most like. Let’s get started.
Leaf colors are caused by pigments, which you probably already knew. What you might not know is that each pigment serves a particular role to benefit the tree. Did you also know that all biological pigments absorb specific wavelengths of light while reflecting others? Furthermore, the light that is absorbed, provides energy for the tree, but it is the light that is reflected, and not used by the tree that gives us the beautiful colors we see.
Leaf pigments in trees can get complicated, so let’s just talk about three.
Which of the three basic colors are you?
Yellow – The aspen of the cool North might be the tree you are most like. Aspens are easily spotted thanks to their growth in large clusters and their stunning yellow color in fall. If you’re a Southern Bell, the birch tree casts a similar yellow flare.
The yellow color is the light reflected from pigments known as carotenoids. These pigments are present year around but are camouflaged by the green of chlorophyll during spring and summer. Their levels are constant from year to year unvaried by weather conditions. While not visible, carotenoids are working hard all summer long, playing second fiddle if you will, to chlorophyll. They cannot transfer sunlight energy directly to the tree to make food, but rather pass the light energy they have collected to chlorophyll which can feed the tree. Interestingly, carotenoids stick around long after chlorophyll is gone. Perhaps they do this just to capture a little moment, for a few weeks in fall, to show off, and to show us their true color, dazzling yellow.
Maybe you are like carotenoid, hardworking, constant, steady, and dependable, no matter what the circumstances. You are willing to serve in a supportive role, and in no way are a glory seeker. Thank goodness for the contributions you are making. Just remember, when you find yourself alone, it just may be your moment of glory, when it is your destiny to display your brilliant yellow color!
Red – Oh, how a red maple can hypnotize us in fall with its flaming red flare. What is behind the bright red color? Anthocyanins. Unlike carotenoids, they are only produced in the fall, and only under certain conditions. This means that a tree's red color can differ greatly from year to year depending on the temperature and cloud cover present. Some trees are unable to make anthocyanins altogether.
Wouldn’t we all love to have the radiance of the red tree? Are you like anthocyanin? Are you bright and stunning at times, while not so stunning at others, or maybe even altogether absent? If so, your flare is undeniable and unmatched, just like a stunning red maple in fall. The key is to find consistency, in whatever conditions of life you find yourself. The more consistency you develop the more you will glow. Be grateful that you possess the ability to bring such supreme delight to others, even if it is only on occasion. Not everyone has this trait.
Brown – Maybe you’re more like many of the mighty oaks in fall, just plain brown. Tannins are responsible for this brown coloring. Like carotenoids, tannins are always present in the leaves but only show up when other pigments are absent. They are actually common waste products of trees and are often found accumulated in dead tissue. Interestingly, most trees lose their leaves in late fall. Brown oaks, however, tend to hang on to their leaves all winter long.
Along with brown leaves, tannins can also contribute a golden hue to some of our favorite yellow trees, like the beech. It seems that with the right combination of yellow carotenoid and brown tannin you can get pure gold, nice. Of course, the brown tannin always sticks around longer than the carotenoid, leaving the fate of the gold leaf to eventually turn brown and die.
You might think that if you’re like a tannin-filled mighty oak that you’re just plain brown and carrying around a lot of dead weight. That would be one interpretation, but I like a more positive approach. To me, the mighty oaks are strong individuals with many years of experience and much wisdom to share. They cling to the past as a protective measure, using their understanding of life to prepare themselves and others for another winter, just as the oak tree keeps its leaves in order to protect the delicate vein connecting it to the tree through the tough months ahead. Tough times, like tannins, can be considered waste, or they can be used to bring character and a golden hue to life. Finally, it’s the tannins, or experiences and wisdom, that endure the longest in life. Long after the golden days are gone, the tannins remain. There can be a great deal learned from folks who are like mighty oaks.
This is the view out my driveway in late fall.
It’s hard not to think of which color tree the people I meet that day will see in me as I head toward the road.
Find yourself in the trees this fall.
Smile at the good you bring to the world. Ponder how to be a better you. Press on.
Which color of tree are you?
Would you like to read more stories like this? Please visit Jamie's website for more Mental Morsels with Dr. Cearley. Learning life principles from the farm.