Local Treasures with Pia: Fall Colors

There is something magical about the changing colors of fall leaves. You wake up one morning and just like that, the dusty green Virginia Creeper has turned a startling ruby red. Soon after, the honey locust turns a bright, sunshiny yellow, and then the maple trees start their symphony of reds and yellows and golds.

It’s the waning daylight and dipping temperatures that make the leaves turn. Tree leaves are green because they contain chlorophyll, a compound that changes sunlight into energy that makes a tree grow big and strong. However, all year, inside the leaves hidden from sight, are leaf structures that are red and orange and yellow. When the chlorophyll breaks down at the end of summer, the brightly colored tissues get their time to shine. For a detailed scientific explanation you can use for a school project, learn more online.

It’s fun and easy to preserve some of the beautifully colored leaves: pick leaves that are mostly flat; sandwich them between layers of newsprint (or pieces of brown paper bags) and weigh them down with books or stacks of magazines. It takes about two weeks for the leaves to dry completely.

You can speed up this process by very carefully using the microwave: sandwich leaves between paper towels and put them on a plate; microwave in short bursts – 20-25 seconds at a time – and watch the process very carefully to make sure the leaves don’t catch fire. Let the leaves cool and spray them with a clear acrylic sealant, and you have beautiful fall decorations.

However, the very best way to see the leaves is of course while they are still on the trees. Take a trip to the John A. Finch Arboretum just off the Sunset Highway and see for yourself. Right now, Green and White Ash trees show off deep orange and bright yellow leaves, and the Burning Bushes are beginning to turn scarlet. The collection of Maple Trees is also beginning to turn into its fall splendor.

Access to the John A. Finch Arboretum is free and maps with self-guided tours are available on site or online.

The Arboretum is also a fabulous resource if you are designing a yard and wonder which trees to plant and how big they get. The self-guided walking tour will take you through all the plantings – including more than 70 varieties of crabapple and the beautiful Corey Glen Area that’s planted with hostas, azaleas and rhododendrons.

Arboretum instructions: Please respect that pets are not allowed at the Arboretum. Also, you are welcome to pick up leaves, cones and seeds, but please do not cut or break anything off the trees and bushes there.

Learn more about Finch Arboretum.

Finch Arboretum


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