Fifth week means it’s crunch time at Carleton, but the stress level of students isn’t the only thing that is peaking right now. As you walk around campus, this is the perfect moment to appreciate the brilliantly colored leaves you’re shuffling through. The fall color in southern Minnesota is currently at its prime, yet leaves are already quickly falling.
The brilliance of fall color is determined by tree species and by the weather. The recent dry, sunny days and cool nights have produced a stellar show this year. Temperatures that are low, but above freezing help destroy the green leaf pigment (chlorophyll) and stimulate the production of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are leaf pigments that produce the reds and purples seen on some trees. These pigments reside in the cell sap of the leaves and are formed by chemical reactions between accumulating sugars and anthocyanidins. The more acidic the sap, the more brilliant the color. A final class is the carotenoids, which produce the yellows seen when a leaf loses its chlorophyll.
These bright yellows are especially apparent in the leaves of the sugar maples and silver maples, several of which adorn the bald spot and the Libe. Many sugar maples also display reds and oranges. Cottonwoods, cherry trees, and Aspens provide many of the other golden hues seen around campus. Flowering dogwoods, red oaks and sumacs bring deep, rich reds.
So if you’re a math major looking to crunch more than numbers, an English major who needs to branch out, or just someone trying to find a good way to celebrate the end of fall, there’s no need to look further than the ends of your feet. Just put on your shoes and start shuffling. Happy crunching, everyone.
- Jasmine Cutter '13, for the Cole Student Naturalists