Berkeley Talks: Why do leaves change color in the fall?

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trees with leaves of changing colors

(UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

In Berkeley Talks episode 129, Lewis Feldman, UC Berkeley professor of plant biology and executive director of the UC Botanical Garden, explores why some leaves appear to change color in the fall season — exhibiting reds, oranges and yellows — and the environmental influences that affect the brilliance of these colors. He also explains the evolutionary benefits of a tree losing its leaves.

“Why develop color?” asked Feldman at the Nov. 23 event. “What’s the adaptive advantage to a plant of producing these beautiful fall colors? This happened long before humans evolved, so it’s not for our benefit that the plant produces these beautiful fall colors.”

One hypothesis, Feldman said, is called photo protection. It believes that the red pigments, which form to allow the plant to more efficiently recover the nutrients in the leaves, prevent damage. It’s also believed, he said, that red pigments allow plants to tolerate water stress and leaf forming, if forming should occur at the wrong time.

Listen to the full lecture, followed by a Q&A with the audience, in Berkeley Talks episode 129: ‘Why do leaves change color in the fall?’

Learn more about the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley.

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