Autumn is a wonderful time in Kew's Arboretum. Here Tony Hall explains what creates the leaves' fantastic colours and shares some highlights of what you can see now.
Autumn is a wonderful time in Kew’s Arboretum. Some of the deciduous trees, shrubs and climbers are changing into their autumn hues: wonderful shades of yellows, oranges and bright reds, with many colours in between. The colours can vary from year to year and are down to a number of factors, but mainly to weather and day length. Warm sunny days produce lots of sugars in the leaves and it is these that help produce lots of anthocyanin pigments, which make the red and purple hues. The yellows and oranges are from the carotenoids, another pigment which is always present in the leaves, and so these colours are constant in most years. As the day length shortens the leaves are cut off from the tree by what is called the abscission layer, trapping the sugars in the leaves, and as the chlorophyll disappears we are left with the wonderful autumn leaf colour.
What type of weather makes the best colour?
Warm, wet springs with good summers, late summer sun, and cool autumn nights produce the best colour. With October and November generally being the best months, this year seems a little early as the following photos show. This is possibly due to the hot dry spring we had.
Fraxinus americana 'American Ash'
Images: The coppery tones of beech are always a wonderful sight (left), and the stunning red of Liquidambar (right)
What else to look out for in Autumn
Fungi are also a wonderful sight in the autumn, and grow all over the Arboretum so be sure to look out for them over the next few months too. Here are some that can be seen now.
Images: Puffballs and honey fungus (left) and honey fungus(right)
There are still a few bulbs of the large flowered Colchicum autumnale, which will flower for a few weeks yet, as well as the true autumn crocus (Crocus speciosus) and the lovely small purple flowered cyclamen under some of our mature oaks.
Cyclamen hederifolium under an oak tree
Finally, there's more than just the plants, trees and fungi to see... Ivy is one of the last nectar and pollen sources of the year. On warm autumn days butterflies and bees will cover plants for a final feed.
Bee and comma butterfly feeding
- Tony -
- Discover trees and fungi this autumn at Kew
- Find out more about trees
- Visit Kew this autumn
- Experience the Xstrata Treetop Walkway
- Read about Kew's champion trees and fabulous fungi in the new issue of Kew magazine
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