All around us, native plants are putting on their autumn colours. For some people, it’s all about the aesthetics, but we love how autumn reveals the hidden pigments and hidden stories.
Take yellow leaves, like these beauties from an Acer macrophyllum (bigleaf maple). The yellow that you’re seeing are from pigments called xanthophylls. They’ve always been in the leaf, but have just now become visible because the green chlorophyll has mostly degraded and disappeared.
Xanthophylls are “accessory” pigments that can capture wavelengths of sunlight that chlorophylls can’t and so help absorb light for the plant to use in photosynthesis. There’s also growing evidence that xanthophylls help protect plants from sun damage.
It’s something to think about next time you encounter a beautiful yellow leaf in a native plant – such as Populus balsamifera (black cottonwood), Sorbus sitchensis (Sitka mountain-ash) or Alnus rubra (red alder).