The Colors of Fall

I conducted this project as part of Professor Pringle’s EEB321 class at Princeton University

On a Friday afternoon, I encountered a small leaf, turned reddish-brown with senescence and fallen to the ground from a tree I don’t know the name of. Small, but packed full of beautiful colors that in conjunction with millions of other leaves makes the east coast, and Princeton University specifically, one of the most beautiful places on earth during this time of year. Apart from aesthetics, this small leaf also represents the full cycle of life. It grows, then dies and the organic and inorganic matter returns back to the earth, to be used again, perhaps for another leaf on another tree.

The leaf was small enough that I could place it fully into the foldscope. When looked through with light in the background, the leaf’s internal structures, divided into individual cells can be clearly seen, like little white highways or fences throughout the leaf. Between each divide, each cell retains the color it presents on the outside – varying colors of yellow, orange, and brown. I am very curious to understand why this happens in terms of the microbiology and the leaves’ small internal structures and I wonder if we’re to look at the same leaf during the spring or summer, it would have been varying shades of green instead.

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