Learning Leaf Colors Unique to Tree Families

Autumn Red, Yellow, Orange Leaf Color by Tree Species

rainbow line of fall leaves
(LWieck/Getty Images)

Certain broadleaf trees are noted and can be uniquely identified, by their brilliant fall leaf color. In some cases, a tree's common name is derived from its primary autumn leaf color (red maple and yellow poplar). The most common leaf colors of fall are red, yellow and orange and some species can express several of these colors simultaneously as the season progresses.

How Leaf Color Develops

All leaves start out the summer as green. This is because of the presence of a group of green pigments known as chlorophyll. When these green pigments are abundant in the leaf's cells during the growing season, they mask out the color of any other pigments that may be present in the leaf.

But with autumn comes a destruction of chlorophyll. This demise of green pigments allows other masked colors to be expressed. Those unmasked fall colors quickly become markers for individual deciduous tree species.

The following are lists of tree species by their primary colors.

Trees With Red Leaf Color

Red is produced by warm, sunny fall days and cool fall nights. Leftover food in the leaf is transformed into red or anthocyanin pigments. These red pigments also color cranberries, red apples, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, and plums.

Trees With Yellow and Orange Leaf Color

Chlorophyll is destroyed with the onset of autumnal conditions. This demise of green pigment unmasks the orange and yellow leaf colors, or carotenoid pigments. Deep orange is a combining of the red and yellow color making process. These yellow and orange pigments also color carrots, corn, canaries, and daffodils, as well as egg yolks, rutabagas, buttercups, and bananas.