Never mind all that mists and mellow fruitfulness malarkey, it’s autumn’s turning leaves that provide this season’s true high point, with the bonus of a science lesson on the side. Find out why they change and where to witness this magical scene.
The annual gold rush, when deciduous leaves change colour, is produced when the days get shorter, with cool, but not freezing, nights. This prompts trees to reduce green chlorophyll production, giving other pigments a chance to shine, albeit briefly.
Leaf shedding, called abscission, is all about preparing for winter; leaves are fragile things that could dessicate or freeze during the coldest months. To prevent damage they drop off, but not before withdrawing valuable pigments like chlorophyll and forming a thin band of dead cells at the base of the stem that separates leaf and stalk. When it dies and drops to the forest floor, any useful nutrients can be reabsorbed as the leaf decomposes.
Where to see the leaves turning
Go down to the woods today… and you’ll catch one of nature’s finest displays. No matter how many times we’ve seen it before, the vivid hues of red, gold, yellow and orange that cloak the trees and carpet the ground this month never lose impact. A walk in the woods, park or simply down a tree-lined road provides an instant mood-lift.
Here are our top five spots:
Westonbirt, the National Arboretum in Gloucestershire, famous for its riot of autumnal colour and the UK’s largest collection of Japanese maples (acer), which are at their best right now.
Salcey Forest near Northampton, for a bird’s eye view of the forest in all its glory, from the Tree Top Way.
Crinan Wood, Argyll and Bute, Scotland – the warm, moist climate in this magical wood means it’s often described as Scotland’s rainforest. It’s home to a wide variety of ferns and lichens, too.
Brede High Woods, Cripps Corner, East Sussex. This is a large wood where you can spot many varieties of tree, as well as some of the UK’s most important creatures, including the great crested newt, badgers, fallow deer and the brook lamprey dormouse.
Bedgebury Pinetum, Kent – the largest collection of conifers in the world. Lots to keep kids entertained, too, from the Gruffalo trail to the Go Ape adventure park.