Soils may dictate the array of fall colors as much as the kinds of trees planted in them. When they moved sweetgum and red maple trees from one type of soil to another, researchers in North Carolina discovered that in places where the soil was relatively low in nitrogen and other essential elements, trees produced more red pigments, almost as if they were shouting “Help!”

When the sun starts to wane in the fall, trees growing in less nutritious soil create red leaf pigments so that they can send more nutrients to down to their roots, in the form of green chlorophyll, in order to help them survive over the winter. Soil scientist Martha C. Eppes says, “The rainbow of color we see in the fall is not just for our personal human enjoyment?rather, it is the trees going on about their lives and trying to survive.”

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