Autumn is in full swing, and the Northeast US is a riot of colors. What causes this seasonal change? We’ve got the answers to all of your fall foliage questions here:


Leaves are green in the summer because they contain a great deal of the pigment chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is necessary for the process of photosynthesis, which plants use to make food.

Chlorophyll is not the only pigment in leaves, but during the summer there’s so much of it that no other colors can be seen. Leaves also contain carotenoids—yellow, orange and brown pigments that give color to such foods as carrots and bananas. In the fall, some leaves produce red pigments called anthocyanins, which are also found in fruits like cranberries and blueberries. 


As autumn approaches, days become shorter and nights grow longer. Trees respond to the decrease in sunlight by slowing down production of the green pigment chlorophyll. As the amount of chlorophyll drops, yellow, orange and brown pigments (carotenoids) become visible. In some trees, dwindling light levels cause other changes inside the leaf. For instance, the concentration of sugars often goes up, which causes the formation of red pigments (anthocyanins).


Only a little bit. Although some people assume that leaves change color in response to cooler weather, it’s really the shorter days of fall that signal to trees that it’s time to prepare for winter. But weather does affect the intensity of leaf color. Seasonably warm and sunny fall days combined with cool (but not freezing) nights seem to produce the most stunning autumn colors. In addition, fall colors can be delayed by a severe summer drought.


No. Trees like pines, spruces and firs are “evergreens”—their leaves are always green. These trees generally have tough needle-shaped leaves that can withstand cold weather. In fact, individual leaves on evergreens can stay on the tree for several years.


Yes. The chart below lists some common trees and their typical fall leaf colors.

 ASPEN:                Golds

BEECH:               Yellows and Tans

DOGWOOD:        Deep Reds

ELM:                    Browns

HICKORY:            Golds

OAK:                   Reds and Browns

RED MAPLE:        Bright Reds

SOURWOOD:       Deep Reds

SUGAR MAPLE:    Orangish Reds

Can’t get enough fall foliage? Check out our Pinterest board Autumn at the Museum

Isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?

You know what’s the worst thing about somebody breaking up with you? It’s when you remember how little you thought about the people you broke up with and you realize that is how little they’re thinking of you. You know, you’d like to think you’re both in all this pain but they’re just like “Hey, I’m glad you’re gone”.

 I believe if there’s any kind of God it wouldn’t be in any of us, not you or me but just this little space in between. If there’s any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt. - Before Sunrise(1995)


It’s October, which means it’s officially OK for Americans to go crazy about pumpkin and pumpkin-flavored stuff.

I’m fascinated by the pumpkin craze, so I searched our archives for related stories. I came across this neat 1996 All Things Considered interview about the origin of the pumpkin. The transcript is copied below. Photo: iStockphoto.

- Kate

DANIEL ZWERDLING, Host: And finally, to prepare you and your loved ones for Halloween, we have called Marjorie Cuyler [sp], author of The All Around Pumpkin Book, and we’ve asked her some of the pumpkin questions that undoubtedly you have been yearning to ask.

QUESTIONER: What is the origin of the pumpkin?

MARJORIE CUYLER, Author: The prevailing theory is that the first Indians who came to the Americas brought seeds with them from Asia.


MARJORIE CUYLER: Thirteen thousand B.C.

QUESTIONER: What is the oldest pumpkin ever found?

MARJORIE CUYLER: The oldest evidence is actually in the mythology, in the Eastern part of the world. There’s a creation myth in eastern Indochina that the world was created from a pumpkin, and in Africa there’s some old, old stories about the pumpkin. There’s one about the devil dying and the pumpkin being born at that moment.

QUESTIONER: Why do we carve pumpkins at Halloween?

MARJORIE CUYLER: When the Europeans came to America, they brought certain customs with them. Certainly the ancient Celts had a tradition of carving turnips as part of the celebration of Samhain, S-A-M-H-A-I-N, which is a festival they held on October 31st to mark the end of the summer.


MARJORIE CUYLER: And they would carve turnips because they felt that after 30- the 31st, winter would begin and spirits would walk the Earth during the darkness of winter. And if they could carry turnips with lights, candlelight inside of them, these lanterns would keep the evil spirits away from the people.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: So how did carved turnips from the- from England get to be pumpkins carved in the United States?

MARJORIE CUYLER: Well, when the Europeans came to America, the Indians were very helpful in teaching them how to grow pumpkins in mounds that were included among the corn crops. And as the settler- early American settlers began to grow pumpkins they realized that they could be used for the purpose of carrying lights inside. So they just felt that pumpkins were a more efficient vegetable than turnips or beets.

QUESTIONER: What are some great moments in pumpkin history?

MARJORIE CUYLER: On January 21st, 1950, a man named Alger Hiss was sentenced to five years in prison. Now back in the ’30s, in fact in 1938, he had been working for the State Department, and while he had that position he passed secret documents to the communists. Now the man who accused him in the ’50s, in 1950, was an ex-communist named Whittaker Chambers. And in court Mr. Chambers produced microfilm of the papers that he said Mr. Hiss had given to the Russians, and Mr. Chambers had kept the microfilm hidden in a pumpkin on his farm in Maryland. And that’s quite a famous story, and it certainly put pumpkins on the map.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: Marjorie Cuyler is author of The All Around Pumpkin Book. And for this evening, that’s All Things Considered.


Finally, I Get To Know What They Mean

(via shrinkinglibrarian)