The view from Scheer Bluff on Grandfather Mountain yields a dazzling display of coniferous and deciduous color. (Photo by Skip Sickler)
Whereas coniferous trees — also known as evergreens — keep their needles year round, deciduous trees respond to the season’s diminishing daylight by ceasing production of chlorophyll. As the chlorophyll already in the tree’s leaves fades and becomes clear, other chemicals and their colors are revealed. Xanthophyll, keratinoids and tannins exist within the leaf all season but are “overshadowed” by the stronger, more vibrant green chlorophyll. Xanthophyll leads to yellow leaves, keratinoids lead to a mix of orange and yellow leaves, and tannins leave leaves brown.