Why are most leaves green most of the time?
Why do tree leaves change color in the fall?
Why do some leaves turn yellow? Why do others turn red?
How is fall leaf color connected to every breath you take?
Last weekend we enjoyed a campground with a beautiful tapestry of red, orange, and gold leaves. The brilliant colors have been stunning for several weeks.
Leaves are green during spring and summer because of the presence of the pigment chlorophyll. This pigment is a vital part of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process by which plant leaves use sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to produce sugars and oxygen. The oxygen is released into the atmosphere, and the plants use the sugars. Without photosynthesis, the sun’s energy would be useless and life could not exist.
Every leaf is an amazing little energy-conversion factory that takes carbon dioxide from the air and light energy from the sun and produces both oxygen for breathing and energy in the form of sugars stored in plants.
Photosynthesis is the process by which plants produce food from the sun. It is a vital biological process that is so complex that it is not yet fully understood. It involves hundreds of chemical reactions among many different complex molecules occurring in the correct order at exactly the right times. Yet many scientists insist on believing it all developed gradually by accident, instead of acknowledging the work of an intelligent Creator who designed the process for the benefit of plants and animals.
Photosynthesis is the primary supply source for the oxygen we breathe. It also produces all the organic compounds and most of the energy needed for plant and animal life. God’s provision of food, energy, and oxygen through plants via photosynthesis is so abundant that we take it for granted and rarely think about it or thank Him for it.
Chlorophyll is one of the essential ingredients of photosynthesis. Sunlight hitting chlorophyll molecules causes them to vibrate and emit charged electrons that energize the sugar-making process in the leaf. Chlorophyll molecules absorb the red and blue parts of sunlight and reflect the green. That’s why leaves look green.
Red, orange, and yellow pigments are also present in leaves; they absorb light energy from other parts of the spectrum. But the abundance of green chlorophyll masks all other pigments during spring and summer.
Chlorophyll is a highly complex molecule comprised of magnesium (Mg), nitrogen (N), oxygen (O), carbon (C), and hydrogen (H) atoms. It exists in multiple forms in nature. The most common plant form is chlorophyll a with molecular formula C55H72O5N4Mg.
To make a chlorophyll molecule requires at least 17 different enzymes, each of which is itself a complex molecule. The complicated chlorophyll molecule did not arise by chance. It was designed by a benevolent Creator for the benefit of His creatures.
Chlorophyll and photosynthesis testify of a Designer and Creator, for they could not have arisen by chance accident. If any single part were missing, the whole incredibly complex system would be useless.
As the days grow shorter and nights grow longer and cooler in autumn, trees stop making chlorophyll, and it rapidly degrades. Other colors which were hidden by the green chlorophyll become visible. Yellow pigments (xanthophylls) and orange and brown pigments (carotenoids) become apparent. Red pigments (anthocyanins) are most common in maple trees, especially sugar maples.
Will the leaves change color again next year? How do you know? If you believe in a random universe, how do you explain the relentless cycle of the seasons? The regularity of each autumn’s splendid color changes testifies to a world of exquisite order sustained by the Creator’s hand. After the worldwide Flood of Noah, Yahweh guaranteed the regular repetition of the seasons:
“While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
And cold and heat,
And summer and winter,
And day and night
Shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22).
The chlorophyll molecule and the photosynthesis process are creations of the Almighty for the benefit of life on earth. They reflect the glory of the Creator as man learns more about them through study and research. The changing colors of fall leaves remind us of what the Creator has designed to provide food and oxygen for mankind.
Questions to Ponder
- Do you consciously thank God for the beauty and benefits of plants like trees?
- How do leaves show the overwhelming abundance of God?
Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.
Soli Deo Gloria.
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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
“for the defense of the gospel”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 1:16)
Wednesday November 9, 2016 A.D.
Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with seed in them, on the earth”; and it was so. And the earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day. (Genesis 1:11-13 NASB)