Why Do They Not Change Color?

A small pile of Fall leaves with a mixture of yellow, orange, and red colors.

I had the pleasure of traveling to the East Coast in early October to chase down Fall foliage. I knew I was a bit early for the spectacular abundance of tree color. I lucked out and saw the trees as they were just turning color. Camellia sinensis bushes, however, do not change leaf color.

Green Leaves 

A close-up of the bottom of a green leaf.

A green leaf acts as a world class kitchen for a tree, turning sunlight into energy and ultimately into food. The leaf is actually a complex system. Looking closely at a leaf one can see that it is made up of tiny cells or blocks, veins and a stem. It is what is inside the cells or blocks that holds the key to the green color. Within each cell of the leaf there is a substance called chlorophyll. The chemical substance chlorophyll is colored green. In translating the word chlorophyll from Greek, the word chloros means “light green” and phyllo translates into “leaf”. Chlorophyll is crucial to allowing the leaf to absorb energy from sunlight. This process is called photosynthesis. 

Two large trees at the edge of a clearing. Some leaves are beginning to change, but most are still green.

If the leaf cells or blocks are the kitchens of the tree, then the chlorophyll is the chef busily working to create food for the tree. The “acting chef” chlorophyll takes a little of this (carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) and a little of that (water from the ground and atmosphere) to create an entree full of a sugar carbohydrate, called glucose. The chlorophyll (or chef) can only work in a well lit kitchen. The cells or blocks that the chlorophyll is located in needs exposure to sunlight. The sunlight provides the energy for the chef (chlorophyll) to turn carbon dioxide and water into the sugar.

Deciduous Trees 

Several large trees at the edge of a clearing. One tree in particular is covered in orange and red foliage. The trees that lose their leaves in Fall are called deciduous trees. Numerous species of deciduous trees create incredibly colorful foliage. Deciduous trees stay leafless throughout the winter, yet survive due to the leaf’s job of creating food for the tree. There are several chemical changes that occur in the leaf prior to it falling off the tree. The leaves stop producing chlorophyll and the green fades from the leaf, exposing the yellow and orange in the leaf. The glucose that is trapped in the leaf spurs the increased production of a chemical, anthocyanin, that causes the red color in leaves. Scientists believe the red pigment, anthocyanin, acts as a sun protectant for the leaf prior to it falling off the trees.

Combined with the drop in temperature, and less sunlight during the day, the brilliant colors in the leaves appear. The amount of rain in spring, summer and fall, is believed to have a direct correlation to an abundance of fall colors. Too much rain in fall time can negatively affect the chances of colorful fall foliage. For optimal fall foliage, a rainy spring, fair summer weather and warm sunny days and cool, but not freezing, nights will create beautiful autumn colors. 

 

 

 

 

 

Tea Plants

A close-up of a tea bush in a tea garden. The leaves are green.

Camellia sinensis plants are evergreen plants. The tea plant is not of a woody stalk, and does not drop its leaves to preserve water in the tree during winter months. Their leaves stay green throughout the year. If they do happen to lose their leaves, several reasons could be at play: possibly too much iron in the soil, a root fungus, or burned leaves from the hot afternoon sun. Evergreen trees and shrubs continue to produce chlorophyll throughout the year. They have a waxy coating on their leaves to help decrease what is known as transpiration,the loss of water being expelled from the leaf cell membranes. Preserving the water in the leaf helps with the continuation of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the catalyst for producing chlorophyll in the leaf. The chlorophyll is what keeps the leaf green in color. Chlorophyll does not decrease in production in the autumn with the cooler nights, unlike the deciduous trees. The level of chlorophyll is fairly consistent throughout the year. Because of the consistent level of chlorophyll, the green color doesn’t fade, exposing the yellow and orange pigmentation, nor does the leaf increase production of the red pigmentation anthocyanin. In short, the leaf doesn’t undergo the chemical changes that a deciduous tree with a woody stalk would undergo. 

Colorful World Of Tea Beverages 

8 cups of tea together on a white surface, with a creamer full of milk in the center. Two of the cups have milk, one more than the other. Three other cups are black tea, one with a tea bag in the cup. Finally, there are three cups of green tea, one with lemon and one with mint.

While Camellia sinensis tea plants remain a consistent green color, hopefully never brown in color, the tea liquor color can be greatly varied. Depending on the manufacturing of the plant leaves, the color in the cup can be a subtle cream color, a pale yellow, a light green, a burnished amber, or dark brown color. Like an artist’s palate, there are many color choices for your cup of tea!

Here’s to colorful sipping,

Leslie

References: 

https://harvardforest.fas.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/leaves/2002_11_leaf_article.pdf

https://www.fs.usda.gov/visit/fall-colors/science-of-fall-colors

About The Author

A photo of Leslie on the patio wearing a pink cardiganLeslie Sundberg is a World Tea Academy Certified Tea Specialist, a World Tea Academy Apprentice Tea Sommelier, a Specialty Tea Institute Level IV trained Tea Specialist, and a Tea and Business Etiquette Specialist. On any given day, Leslie can be found teaching, speaking or sharing in the joys of a cup of tea.  No matter what Leslie is doing or where she is, one thing remains constant: 4:00 in the afternoon is tea time!

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