Witnessing the changing colours of the leaves during the autumn is an enjoyable spectacle for many of us. However, the reason as to why this happens has been a source of much debate. David Wilkinson explores the scientific theories and knowledge as to why trees display such bright autumn colours and, as a result of this remarkable change, the connection formed between science and art.
Autumn in Wytham Woods, just west of Oxford. Many of the leaves have already fallen, allowing the low-angled sun to penetrate to the woodland floor. The older Beech Fagus sylvatica trees stand out dramatically, as they still have most of their leaves – yellow with carotenoid pigments in the autumn light. This annual display of autumn colours is one of the great natural-history spectacles of the temperate zone.