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What Color is Nature?

When you think of Nature what color comes to mind?

Some may say green, others say blue, a few may say “it’s the whole rainbow of colors!”.

Correct, yes, and absolutely!

Nature is all the above.

Color is important in Nature for many reasons. In this three-part series, we will look at color in leaves, flowers, and animals.

But first let’s talk about…

What Is Color?

Color is a vibration of energy, a wavelength on the energy spectrum which includes infrared, ultraviolet, x-rays, and it's similar to sound and heat energy. In addition to basic biological functions like protection, attraction, and warning, color has an impact on human moods, stress, and energy levels.

White light, from the sun includes all color vibrations; white is all colors. Black is the absence of color, the absence of light. When light hits an object, some of the color vibrations/energy is absorbed by the object, except for the color you see. That color is reflected from the object to your eyes, and you say, “that apple is red”, or green, or yellow, depending on its ripeness, age, or type. When you see something that is white, it is reflecting all the color vibrations.

[[ Not to confuse matters too much, but there is a difference when you see a “black” object, such as the black spots on a dog, or a black button, or black in newsprint or a painting. The object is colored to look like it is black. Look closely at those “black” hairs on the dog. You’ll see what I mean. When you see the color "black" (like in a button or in print or a painting) or you mix colors and get "black", it really isn’t a true black "black". Most often the color you see is a very dark blue, purple* or brown* (*which are also mixes of colors). On the Freebie page there is a simple experiment you can do to find out “What Colors’ Your ‘Black’?”. ]]

What Color is Nature?: Part One - Autumn Leaves

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” ~ Albert Camus

Autumn is certainly a colorful time of year when the trees are “turning color”. Did you ever wonder why the color of leaves change?

Leaves have many different kinds of chemicals in them. You’ve probably heard of chlorophyll. It’s the green pigment in the chloroplasts and organelles within the cells of leaves, but also in the stem and bark, as well.

Chlorophyll is the pigment which absorbs sunlight energy which is then used by the chloroplasts to carry out the process of photosynthesis. Through photosynthesis,

plants take in carbon dioxide, water, and nutrients and use the sunlight energy to synthesize/make carbohydrates (sugars). Carbohydrates are used by the plant to make plant body parts, like more chloroplasts and chlorophyll. During the process, water and oxygen are excreted as waste products. (Take a deep breath and say, "thank you, chlorophyll!")

The interesting thing is, while chlorophyll looks green to us, it’s actually very poor at absorbing green light. The green color you see is reflected by the chlorophyll, and that is what makes leaves look green.

In Autumn as the photoperiod decreases (days get shorter), there are less and less hours of sunlight, therefore less and less sunlight energy available for photosynthesis – the manufacture of plant parts slows down. That, coupled with the overall moisture during the previous spring and summer (and to a lesser degree the temperatures), has an effect on the cells in the leaves. To avoid desiccation, the flow of nutrients and water is slowed, and the chloroplasts ( think green) start to die, and there are no more being made. This is when leaves start to “change color” and the other chemical pigments present in plants can be seen. These xanthophyll, carotenoid, and anthocyanin pigments are always in the leaves, but are masked by all of the chlorophyll.

Xanthophylls and carotenoids (yes, think of the color of carrots) are pigments that reflect yellow and orange light.

As the veins that connect leaves to trees start to shut down to avoid desiccation, the sugars still trapped in the leaf react with proteins and form anthocyanins, pigments which turn some leaves red to bluish-purple.

No matter what, Autumn is certainly a colorful time of year! Take out your paints and play! On our Freebie page you will find "Play with Your Colors" and try these prompts below.

  • Mix your paints and try to match the colors you see in Nature. How do these colors make you feel?

  • Every couple weeks do the same thing: mix up some paint matches to what you notice in nature. How do the colors change as the seasons roll on?

  • Take some time to think about colors in other seasons. Divide a page into quarters and paint the colors of the season. As the seasons change, compare what you were thinking the seasons were colored and what you actually observe. Were you close?

  • Look at some landscape photos. Can you tell what season it was when the photos were taken? Count how many different colors you see in each photo.

  • Have you ever noticed the names of the colors on paint chips? Next time you are at the hardware store, pick up a couple of paint chips. Notice what the names are and use them to find color matches out in nature.

  • Give your own paint mixes a name. What would "sunset sherbet" look like? or "rainy day", "moody blue", or "70 degrees"?

Get out & Enjoy the Colors of Nature!

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