Saturday, October 29, 2011

Chemicals and a Plug for the Program

The first frosty morning of the season, frost collects in a fog over the retention pond in the neighborhood.

Looks like smoke, almost.
As the sun rose higher, the frost concentrated over the pond. It looked amazing!

Not hard to see why it's called October Glory, this variety of Maple is heavily planted in our rural subdivision. 

At the end of summer, as the days grow shorter, the shortness of day signals the Chlorophyll involved in the tree's food making process slows. With the decrease in the chlorophyll, anthocyanidins pigments are produced, causing the purple/red pigments. These anthocyanidin pigments fluctuate with the pH level in the leaf. The pH in blueberry leaves are high, giving the blueberry shrub a purple/blue tone. If the pH is lower, the anthocyanidin casts a redder tone. We can see by looking at the October Glory above, the pH is near the more neutral or lower end. Anthocyanidin pigments give grapes and cranberries their distinct colors, along with cherries, strawberries, plums and red apples! Did you know...
the blueberry bush is the #1 planted ornamental shrub??  
If you have blueberry bushes, you have seen the color in autumn and you know why. As we were visiting colleges, I noticed this trend, especially in Michigan.

Here, the October Glory sits in all its glory while the birch in the background displays its beauty. The anthocyanidins in the birch are not as strong as another chemical, carotenoid. The difference between carotenoid and anthocyanidins, is that carotenoids are available in most plants. Carotenoids become visible when chlorophyll lowers the green of the leaf. So, whether it is the beauty in fall or even the disease of a rose leaf, when foliage turns yellow, it is the carotenoid becoming unmasked. Often, the yellowing of the leaves is the first sign that something is wrong. In this case, it is becoming unmasked because the food making process in the birch has slowed and coming to a stop while the birch enters dormancy. 
Carotenoid also colors carrots, corn, daffodils, and the aspen. 
One tree that I do not think has glorious fall color is the Norway Maple. 
(remember, I relegated them to the compost/burn pile!)  The Norway Maple turns a sickly yellow in the autumn, having a low concentrations of anthocyanidins. That, and being an all around undesirable tree, I do not regret my decision to toss them. 

I need to credit the Shelby County Master Gardener Program for teaching me about the chemical process that occurs in the autumn leaves. After 40 hours of schools and 60 hours of volunteering and untold questions by friends and family, the Master Gardener Program covered so much information at a deeper level than I assumed. I have dug out my $100 binder that I lugged around for an entire winter and have been re-learning, as a matter of fact, I have begun the process of entering the program here, in my county. After Cass goes to college, I will need a focus! If you have any interest at all, I highly recommend this program. Each program is a little different, they are created by the extension agents at the State level; Tennessee did an excellent job of covering the Zone 6-8 area. Illinois has Zones 4-7, with a much different soil and heat levels and even water table. Turf that grows in Memphis will not grow in Dekalb. I sat in on several evening courses to familiarize myself when we planted our lawn. The evening sessions I sat in on in Illinois had a much older crowd than my morning classes in Tennessee, I will bet that changes from year to year, as well!
I loved my classes and I met some dear friends there. We shared plants and food every Tuesday morning for most of a year. 
I'd never had a "passalong plant" before meeting all these Southern ladies. I'd never had a bacon parsley tea sandwich, either, but I'm very fond of both!


  1. Sissy -
    Oh my, now I know where your son gets it. You lost me midstream and I think I'm just content saying that tree turns a golden yellow and that tree turns red, although you got me curious about the norway maple. You captured some beautiful and peaceful pictures. I had no idea what a master gardener was until I had to contact one for a couple of issues we were having - we couldn't figure out why we were losing our big blue spruce (canker sores) and another time when we had bugs on our mugo pines (pine sawfly). She was packed full of knowledge. You will do well!

    Connie LOU

  2. Anonymous1:22 PM

    Your sub looks a lot like ours, suburban, yet out in the country. Small trees, retention pond, etc. Autumn's beauty is so enjoyable, if only winter wasn't behind it!

  3. Anonymous3:52 PM

    WOW! thanks for all the information! I'm with commenter Connie..I just love the

  4. Beautiful images of the frosty morning in your neighborhood!

    I went through the MG program a year ago, and I can say it was the best use of time and money I've ever spent. I made some great new friends and learned so much--and I'm still learning:) Even if people aren't interested in taking the program themselves, they should be aware of all the helpful info and programs the Extension Office has to offer.

  5. I have not taken the MG course, but I've heard great things about it.

    Several years ago, we ordered two Sugar maples from the Arbor Day Foundation. We planted them, and then found out they were Norway maples. We'll never buy trees from them again. In a year or so we're going to cut them down and replace them with an actual Sugar maple.


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