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The Science of Autumn Colours

I’ve been watching the trees change colour over recent weeks. They are probably at their best around now. I always hope they’ll stay around for a long time, but invariably we get gales and the trees go bare overnight. Some of them that are growing in exposed spots have already lost almost all their leaves.

Others are still green.

Of those that have changed, I love the range of colours, from the buttery yellow of this willow…

…to the deep orange-red of this ornamental rowan (complete with bright yellow berries).

Some of the Acer (maple) family are the stars of autumn. This one positively glows!

Have you ever considered the science of this spectacle? The leaves are key to everything the tree does. In spring and summer, they are full of the green pigment, chlorophyll. This enables the tree to use energy from sunlight to convert the carbon in carbon dioxide to sugars (by the process of photosynthesis) The sugars fuel growth, flowering and seed production: everything else the tree does. Like a factory needs down time for maintenance and replacement of worn out parts, the tree’s leaves reach the end of their life in autumn. It is the breakdown of the green chlorophyll pigment that gives rise to the yellows, oranges and reds of autumn leaves.

Shorter day length stimulates the tree to produce a layer of weak cells at her base of each leaf stalk. This is called the abscission layer and causes the leaves to detach easily and fall.

The trees will now remain dormant during winter until fresh green leaves emerge in spring, ready to go into full production. Nature is pretty amazing!.

Having been out and about looking for autumn leaf colour, I forgot this in our own garden. It’s a little Japanese maple we’ve had for years that always looks stunning at this time of year.

How are the trees looking where you are?

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A Woodland Ride in Autumn

Yesterday Buddy the Labrador and I joined Daughter when she went riding in Swarland Woods. There are some lovely trails through this mixed woodland, which skirts a golf course.

There is an avenue of horse chestnut trees, which are currently dropping their fruit (conkers). There were plenty of shells but none of the smooth brown conkers they protect. Maybe people had collected them. Apparently if you put piles of conkers around your home they deter spiders. When I was a child we played the game of conkers. This involved drilling a hole in the conker and threading it onto a knotted string. Players would take turns flicking their conker at that of their opponent until theirs shattered. There were all sorts of tricks like pickling your conkers in vinegar to harden them.

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The beautiful fan-shaped leaves of the horse chestnut are just beginning to turn gold for autumn.

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There were plenty of ripe blackberries, but I didn’t stop to pick any or I’d have been left behind by dog and horse! My scooter keeps up ok, but not if Misty breaks into a trot!

There were other berries on show like these glowing red ones on the guelder rose….

…and the startling white fruits of the snowberry, an introduced non-native species. Neither plant’s berries are edible by humans, though are a good food source for birds.

I also saw this beautiful devil’s bit scabious. There are fewer wildflowers about as autumn sets in so this is a welcome splash of colour.

Misty is quite happy with Buddy walking by her side.

As we were almost back at the stables Misty neighed loudly at her two friends and they answered her. They seemed really glad to see us when we got back and posed for pictures.

Of course Misty had to pose too!

What a lovely afternoon we had!

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Autumn Walk at Druridge

Yesterday turned into a lovely day so we arranged to meet daughter for a walk at Druridge Bay Country Park, close to where she lives. The last time I posted about a family walk there it was January and freezing cold. This time is was mild and we were treated to a little early autumn colour.

There were all sorts of berries on the trees and bushes.

There were loads of lovely ripe blackberries – daughter was keen to pick some. She has some apples from my mother’s tree, which has cropped very heavily this year, I’m not sure whether she will make bramble and apple gin or add the brambles to a crumble with the apples – she had a good bagful in a short time.

But berries are not the only way that trees and shrubs produce their seeds. This little oak tree was covered in acorns.

The Ash has elongated winged seeds, known as keys, that hang in bunches.

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The field maple bears pairs of winged seeds.

Down by the lake there was a clump of reedmace, with distinctive velvety brown spikes.

The swans, ducks and gulls gathered by the boat ramp, waiting to be fed, while a lone paddle boarder floated by.

I was just beginning to think that despite all the colourful berries, there was very little autumn leaf colour, then I saw these beauties.

Close to the park exit there was a large stand of teasels. The spiky seedheads looked stunning in the late afternoon sun. We have some in our garden that I hope will attract flocks of hungry goldfinches.

What a lovely way to spend an afternoon!

What signs of autumn have you noticed?