November 11, 2011 by Devils Den
October is one of the busiest times of the year at the park. Visitors are always amazed that the park is at 100 percent capacity every weekend and close to that during the week. Everyone is here for the same reason. The weather for camping is perfect. We open the fireplaces in the cabins. It is ideal weather for a morning hike. The area is also bustling with craft fairs, but most of all, visitors are here for the fall colors.
Fall is strictly an American term. Nowhere else is the deciduous forest as diverse as it is in the United States. This holds true for Northwest Arkansas. Some trees leaves will change before the first cool snap. It is due to a chemical process in the tree that takes place as the season changes from summer to winter.
During the summer, leaves provide food necessary for the tree’s growth. This process takes place in the cells of the leaf, which contain chlorophyll. That is what gives the leaf its green color. The chlorophyll gathers energy from the sun; in turn, it transforms carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates such as sugar and starch. Along with the green pigments, the leave also have yellow and orange carotenoids. For most of the year, these colors are masked by the green pigment. When the sunlight begins to diminish and the temperature falls, the food-making process slowly comes to a halt. Other chemical processes are also taking place to aid with the fall color. The process that brings red (anthocyanin) and purple (betalin) to the forefront is caused by warm days and cool nights. Sugar is made during the day, but the cool night traps the sugar in the leave preventing it from transferring to the rest of the tree.
The color on the same tree may vary from year to year depending on the weather conditions. Also the amount of sunlight or shade a tree is exposed to can affect its color. In the end, the leaf is severed from the tree causing it to fall on its own or with the help of wind or rain. This is a really simplistic way to explain the wonders of autumn. The details we can leave to the botanist while we enjoy the show.
If you would like to learn more about fall’s changing colors, we have a flyer, “Why Leaves Change Color,” available at the Visitor Center. We can also e-mail you a copy. So come to Devil’s Den and enjoy falls free display of color.