The Stunning Colors of Polish Trees in Autumn: Where Do They Come From?

The autumn season in Poland is a beautiful time of year, but unfortunately it doesn’t last long. Before we know it, the golden autumn fades away and is replaced by cold, grey, windy, and rainy weather. But even though the weather may not be ideal, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the beauty of the season. One way is by planting trees that showcase stunning autumn colors before they shed their leaves.

Some trees turn golden, others turn maroon or purple, and some even display a whole range of colors. As winter approaches, trees and animals alike go into a state of dormancy. This is a natural process that allows them to conserve energy and resources during the colder months. As part of this process, trees shed their leaves. But before they do, they put on a spectacular show of autumn colors for us to enjoy.

Environmental conditions that have an impact on the lifespan of leaves:

  • temperature
  • sunlight
  • rain
  • soil moisture
  • wind

As the wet growing season comes to a close and a dry, sunny autumn sets in, the most vibrant shades of color come out to play. This season is a time of preparation for both plants and animals, as they prepare themselves for the colder months ahead. We see this preparation manifest in a variety of ways – from the migrations of birds and the changing fur of mammals to the shedding of leaves by trees.

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These phenological changes are all driven by the natural cycle of the seasons, as shorter and colder days provide the stimulus for transformation in nature. One particularly stunning example of this is the gorgeous autumnal colors of leaves.

What Influences the Autumn Colors?

There are four basic pigments in leaves, which are responsible for color:

  • chlorophyll (green)
  • xanthophylls (yellow)
  • carotenoids (orange)
  • anthocyanins (reds and purples)

During warmer growing seasons, the green pigment chlorophyll is dominant and masks the other pigments present in leaves. As autumn approaches and the days become shorter and the nights longer and cooler, trees start to prepare for the next growing season. This process involves the destruction of chlorophyll, as the decreasing amount of light needed for photosynthesis means it is no longer needed. In its place, the remaining pigments become visible, creating a stunning array of colors ranging from orange and yellow to red and purple.

Poland’s Bieszczady Mountains are particularly renowned for their golden autumnal beauty, with intense colors on display. If you’re looking to soak up the breathtaking sights of the season, this region of the country is an excellent choice and it is sure not to be disappointed.

Why do the Colors of Leaves Change?

There are many theories about the origin and purpose of the colors that appear in autumn leaves. In 2000, evolutionary biologist William D. Hamilton proposed that the colors serve to deter pests. He based his theory on observations of aphids and argued that trees that change color in October, when they start to withdraw nutrients, are healthier the following spring. However, some critics argued that by this time, insects are no longer foraging, so this adaptation would not be effective.

More recently, scientists Martin Schaefer and David Wilkinson have proposed that the red and yellow pigments (carotenoids and anthocyanins) found in autumn leaves serve a similar purpose as sunscreen, protecting the plant from excessive radiation and allowing nutrients to be fully drained. These pigments continue to be produced even as chlorophyll breaks down and is withdrawn, and they trap not only excess light but also harmful oxygen free radicals that can damage plant cells. The question of why some trees change color in the autumn while others do not is still not fully understood and has even been the subject of discussion in the New York Times.

Take a look at this stunning video presenting all the colors of Polish Autumn

What Are The Colors of Autumn Leaves?

As autumn arrived, the leaves of most trees changed colors, turning from green to shades of yellow, orange, brown, and red. The cause of this transformation is the presence of various chemical compounds in the leaves. This process of coloring autumn leaves is a picturesque result of these compounds.

When do Leaves Change Color Exactly?

As the days grow shorter and colder, the concentration of chlorophyll in the leaves decreases. This allows the pigments responsible for the orange and yellow colors of leaves, such as carotenoids and flavonoids, to become more visible. The breakdown of chlorophyll and the increased presence of these pigments create the stunning autumnal colors we see in the leaves of many trees.

When Are the Leaves Golden?

The decrease in chlorophyll concentration during colder and shorter days allows for the pigments responsible for orange and yellow leaf colors, such as carotenoids and flavonoids, to become more visible. These pigments are present in the leaves during the autumn season.

Trees with Yellow Leaves In Autumn

The Ginkgo Biloba tree is a beautiful, but slow-growing species that is well suited for use as a solitary tree. Its distinctive fan-shaped leaves are bright green in the spring, green through much of the summer, and then turn a charming yellow or golden color in the autumn. These sunny hues bring a splash of color to the garden at a time when the sun’s rays are becoming more scarce.

For even greater seasonal color contrast, the common beech (Fagus sylvatica) ’Purpurea’ is a great choice. This colorful variation of the common beech tree develops dark purple leaves in the spring, which stand out dramatically against plants with green leaves. In the autumn, the leaves take on an unusual dark yellow or yellow-orange color, adding a warm, uniform hue to the garden.

The Robinia pseudoacacia, also known as the Acacia Robinia, is another tree that turns yellow in the autumn. Its attractive pinnate leaves are also a highlight, and the tree is grown for its brief but showy blooms and as a honey-producing species.

Yellow, Orange and Brown Leaves

The pedunculate oak (Quercus robur) is a majestic and beautiful tree that is native to many parts of the world. It is known for its grand size and stately appearance, and it also puts on a beautiful show in the autumn when its leaves turn yellow and orange.

The Chinese metasequoia (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) is another tree that turns orange and brown in the autumn. It is one of the few conifers (in addition to the larch) that loses its leaves before winter, shedding small branches or short shoots in the process. Planting this tree near conifers and deciduous trees that turn yellow can create an eye-catching contrast.

Red Trees

The red oak (Quercus rubra) is a striking species with leaves that dramatically change color in the autumn, ranging from bright red to deep purple. This tree is often featured in autumn landscapes in Canada and the northern United States, but it is unfortunately considered an undesirable alien species in Polish forests because it grows more quickly and is more hardy than native trees, potentially crowding them out. However, it is commonly cultivated in gardens for its fast growth rate and showy appearance, though it requires a lot of space.

Palm maples (Acer palmatum) also bring red, maroon, or purple hues to the autumn garden. Some varieties maintain these colors throughout the season, while others only change color briefly before the leaves fall. It’s worth noting that this is a varietal trait, so it’s important to check which color change to expect from a particular variety. Some varieties also change color to yellow, orange, or a mix of colors.

Hamamelis intermedia 'Yamina’ is a great choice for adding color to the garden at a time when it may otherwise be dull or gray. This tree has unusual winter or pre-winter blooms and its leaves start off as a dull purple-green in the spring, turning green later on. The leaves turn a striking ruby color in the autumn and have the added benefit of shedding late.