We’re nearing peak fall colors in Lake Country. Now is a great time to go out and explore the back roads to take in the splendor of fall.

Ever wonder why leaves change colors? The brilliant yellows, oranges, reds and brown that we see each fall are caused by a biochemical reaction, according to the Minnesota DNR. The chemicals vary from one leaf to the next and even from tree to tree, but the chemicals that cause these color changes are chlorophyll, carotenoids, anthocyanins and tannins.


Green leaves contain a pigment called chlorophyll, which absorbs energy from sunlight, a process called photosynthesis. As our days grow shorter and our temperatures get cooler, chlorophyll breaks down faster than it is produced and the carotenoids are revealed. These compounds are what give carrots their orange color. You’re more likely to see these yellows and oranges when we have warm sunny fall weather during the day and cool nights between 32 degrees to 45 degrees.

Our reds and purples are caused by anthocyanins, which occur when sugars combine in the cell sap of the leaves. Trees with an acid pH often create red leaves, while trees with a more alkaline pH produce purplish or bluish leaves. Rain can dull our beautiful fall colors, leaching the anthocyanins and carotenoids from the leaves.

Don’t forget the brown fall leaves that make up our rainbow of fall colors in Minnesota. When chlorophyll and carotenoids break down in leaves each fall, they produce brown leaves because of tannins.

Want to find the best spot in Minnesota to check out fall colors this weekend? Visit the Minnesota DNR website at www.dnr.state.mn.us/fall_colors/index.html.

For a fall road trip close to home, explore the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway, featured in our October/November 2016 issue of Lake Country Journal magazine. The byway offers several parks and trails and other attractions to enjoy the outdoors. Visit www.paulbunyanscenicbyway.org for a byway map and other information.