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Mr. Smarty Plants - Copper beech

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Thursday - May 12, 2005

From: Philadelphia, PA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: General Botany
Title: Copper beech
Answered by: Damon Waitt

QUESTION:

Hi, I work for a youth camp in southeastern Pennsylvania. The property for the camp was purchased from a farmer in 1958. The farmer was a collecter of unusual trees and one of the trees on our property is a Copper Beech. Over the past 10 years, I have noticed that throughout the summer, the color of the leaves change from day to day. They are normally a purple color, but then, some days, they are more green, or at least have a hint of green. Then, they will go back to all purple. I have tried (in a very unscientic way) to watch the tree and see if there were patterns like weather or humidity that would consistently change the color of the leaves, but so far, I haven't come up with anything. Do you know anything about this, or have any ideas? I would love some help on this question. I joke around with the others here at camp about how the weather is going to be that day at camp due to the color of the leaves, and they all think I am crazy. Got any ideas...I sure would like to prove them wrong! Looking forward to hearing back from you.

ANSWER:

This is a complicated question and deserves a complicated answer. Leaves appear green because the green pigment chlorophyll absorbs red and blue light from sunlight. Consequently, the light reflected by leaves is diminished in red and blue and appears green. chlorophyll is not a very stable compound and to maintain the amount of chlorophyll in their leaves, plants must continuously synthesize it. The synthesis of chlorophyll in plants requires sunlight and warm temperatures. Therefore, during summer chlorophyll is continuously broken down and regenerated in the leaves of trees. In some trees, as the concentration of sugar in the leaf increases, the sugar reacts to form anthocyanins. These pigments cause leaves to turn red. The range and intensity of the color change is greatly influenced by the weather. Low temperatures destroy chlorophyll, and if they stay above freezing, promote the formation of anthocyanins. Bright sunshine also destroys chlorophyll and enhances anthocyanin production. Dry weather, by increasing sugar concentration in sap, also increases the amount of anthocyanin. So the brightest colors are produced when dry, sunny days are followed by cool, dry nights.

 

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