Monday, November 4, 2013

Fall Into Fall Colors

It seems as though it has taken longer than usual, but the colors of fall are in full swing here in Wisconsin. In this blog post, we'll explore everything from crafts and activities for fall fun, to just what it is that makes the trees so beautiful this time of year.

Fall has been my favorite season for as long as I can remember. I love the crisp autumn air, the migratory birds, and of course, all the changing trees. When I was younger, my brothers and I would rake up all the leaves in the yard and then use them to make "leaf houses." There was nothing three dimensional about these houses, but we made maze-like designs on the grass and designated a kitchen, living room, and our own rooms, and then we'd play in them for hours. The best part was raking the leaves up again and jumping in the huge pile. This is just one of many ideas for fun things you and your friends and family can do with leaves.

If you're the crafty type, find some especially colorful leaves and make a rose bouquet; the DIY video below shows how to do this by folding and wrapping maple leaves.
This is also a good way to learn which leaves are from maple trees. You can even experiment with other types of leaves and use a tree identification field guide (or an online guide) to learn which trees your favorite leaves come from.

A Wisconsin Trail in the Fall
The Wisconsin Trails website has fifteen fun suggestions for ways to see the changing colors. There are many hiking and biking trails around the state, and for the more adventurous, they suggest kayaking and even zip line tours!

If the fall colors seem to have ended in your area, never fear -- the Wisconsin Fall Color Report will show you the best places to enjoy the rest of the season. It even has a list of events, activities, dining, and lodging that are near your preferred destination in case a short autumn vacation sounds enticing. Hurry-- from Sauk County to the Milwaukee area, there are places throughout the southern half of Wisconsin that are peaking as we speak! Take photos and share them in this beautiful autumn gallery.

So these autumn leaves are beautiful -- that much we've established -- but what makes them so pretty? In the spring and summer, leaves are pigmented by chlorophyll, which creates the green color we see most of the time. As the weather gets colder, though, photosynthesis slows and the chlorophyll begins to fade. The fading of the stronger pigment, chlorophyll, allows other pigments to come through.

Trapped glucose, when exposed to sunlight and cool nights, turns red or purple. This pigment is called anthocyanin, which protects the leaves a bit longer as it gets colder. Other pigments in the leaves include tannin (brown), carotene and lycopene (orange and red), and xanthophyll (yellow), which create all the colors we're seeing right now. You can find out more about autumn leaves here.
Pressed Leaves

You may find some leaves that you want to keep forever, in which case you can press them. This will not quite preserve all the fresh vivid beauty, but the leaves will last longer so they can be used for crafts or become part of your nature records. Record their colors and characteristics by pasting pressed leaves into a nature journal, painting around them in true colors, sketching, tracing, painting, rubbing, printing, comparing with paint swatches, or making other notes. Try to recognize which pigments might be found in the leaves you like best and write these, as well as the tree species, next to your pressed leaf. You can use a heavy book, buy a leaf press or make your own, and then follow this instructional video to press them.

There are many similar videos on YouTube with ideas on what to do with your leaves once you press them. You can make bookmarks, pendants, candles, or paste them on homemade cards. Turn them into colorful critters or make a leaf mobile. Get creative and show off your pretty autumn finds!

Have Some Fall Fun!
Emma, Nature Net Intern

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