Leaf Color and Inquiry

Leaf color

As many of you know, I am in upstate New York this summer and fall. I’m simply amazed that fall is progressing so fast. This photo were taken back on Aug. 24th. Leaf color as a topic for inquiry has a great deal of potential. Nearly everyone living in the Northern temperate areas, at one time or another, has marveled at the brilliant foliage displays and asked the question: “Why do leaves turn color?”

Carl Zimmer, author, blogger from Science Blogs and science writer for the NY Times is also fascinated by leaves. Carl has a 4 year series of articles that explore the ongoing research into why leaves turn color in the fall. This is a great place to begin an investigation into how science works in a way that is very accessible to students (and teachers).

Carl does a great job of summarizing the pace and direction of the leaf color research in an article that appeared in the NY Times and in the following blog posts: 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004,and 2003.

Carl’s excellent articles refer directly to the original papers–many of them available online. Because of the intrinsic interest in this phenomenon, I think you’ll find these papers very accessible to you and your students with Carl’s introduction.

An additional resource that you are going to want to check out is at the Harvard Forest website. There you’ll find a very comprehensive resource about the biology of Autumn Leaf Color as well as links to the pdf’s of many of the relevant research papers.

I hope to find time to dissect the questions that are asked in these articles and how you might want to do some investigating on your own in future postings. Consider reading these articles as you explore the woods this fall and let your own mind wander and find new questions about leaf color that you and your kids might try to answer.