Learning Leaf Colors Unique to Tree Families

Find Red, Yellow, and Orange Leaf Colors by Tree Species

Trees with many different leaf colors grouped around a lake under a blue sky.

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Certain broadleaf trees 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 (such as red maple and yellow poplar). The most common leaf colors of fall are red, yellow, and orange. Some tree species can express several of these colors simultaneously as the season progresses.

How Fall Leaf Color Develops

All leaves start out in 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 the color of any other pigments that may be present in the leaf.

But with autumn comes the destruction of chlorophyll. This demise of the green pigments allows other, previously masked colors to come forward. Those unmasked fall colors quickly become markers for individual deciduous tree species.

Trees With Red Leaves

Red is produced by warm, sunny fall days and cool fall nights. Leftover food in the leaf is transformed into the color red through anthocyanin pigments. These red pigments also color cranberries, red apples, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, and plums. Some maples, sweetgum, and oaks have red fall leaves. Dogwoods, black tupelo trees, sourwood trees, persimmons, and some sassafras trees also have red leaves.

Trees With Yellow and Orange Shades

Chlorophyll is destroyed with the onset of autumnal conditions, which reveals the orange and yellow leaf colors, or carotenoid pigments. Deep orange is a combination 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. Hickory, ash, some maples, the yellow poplar (tulip tree), some oaks (white, chestnut, bear), some sassafras, some sweetgum, beech, birch, and sycamore trees have yellow leaves in the fall.