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Leaves by Maddie, Mia, Mickey and Ally

We spend a lot of time outdoors. We especially enjoy the crisp air and vibrant colors of autumn. For our school science project, we decided to explore the many different leaf colors we notice in the fall and find out what makes these leaves change from green to brilliant orange, yellow and red. Our question: How does sunlight affect the leaf color of oaks and maples?

What did we do?
We went to a local park and looked for an oak tree in a sunny spot and one in a shady spot. We also found maple trees in both sunny and shady locations. Some of the trees hadn't yet started changing color. Every other day or so, we returned to the park and examined our four trees. We took a picture on a digital camera and recorded the parts of the tree that were changing color. After three weeks, all four trees completed their color change.

What did we find out?
We discovered that our question was difficult to investigate! However, we saw that the sunny oak turned a brighter red color than the shady oak. We concluded that more sunlight leads to brighter colors. The maple trees we chose both turned colors about the same time and showed similar colors. We learned that it's hard to make a general conclusion just by looking at one or two trees. We also found that other factors affect tree colors, too, like how much water the tree gets and whether or not it's a healthy tree.

What can you do?
  • Next fall, watch the trees in your neighborhood and keep a record of which kinds of trees turn colors first or which ones lose their leaves right away. Keep track of the weather conditions, too, and try to figure out how temperature and daylight affect the trees.
  • Do all maple trees turn the same color each autumn? Can you identify different trees just by their fall colors?
  • Use this tree investigation as a science fair project idea for your elementary or middle school science fair! Then tell us about it!
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