Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - As we drive around Missoula, it’s hard to keep our eyes on the road due to the fabulous fall colors in the trees and the mountains, however, what is happening to our trees has a scientific explanation for, according to Dr. Peter Kolb, with MSU Extension and the University of Montana School of Forestry.

Dr. Kolb took great pleasure in explaining the science behind the gorgeous fall colors, and why this particular fall has produced such beauty.

Learn the Science Behind our Beautiful Fall Colors from UM's Dr. Peter Kolb

“This is proving to be one of the most colorful falls and this is partly because we had ample moisture this summer and this fall, and we're gently going into winter so as the day length shortens, the trees are responding to shorter day length by going to dormancy to prepare for freezing temperatures this winter,” began Dr. Kolb.

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Dr. Kolb explained the science behind how the leaves turn from green to gold, or red, or purple before they fall to the ground.

“What we perceive as color is actually the visible light spectrum that's being reflected by the leaf,” he said. “We've all in school seen how a prism splits visible light into the longer red wavelengths, and all the way to the shorter blue wavelengths, and so different substances reflect light differently and that's what we perceive as colors.”

Dr. Kolb Explains why Recent Fall Seasons have been so Lacking in Color

Dr. Kolb referenced the recent years in which Missoula and Montana haven’t enjoyed such colors and explained why.

“In the past several years, we haven't had good fall colors here in western Montana, because we had really dry summers so leaves started to dry up,” he said. “Then we also had extremely cold temperatures that hit very quickly, which kind of froze the leaves in place, so that the plants were not able to deconstruct their chlorophyll and they just died and turned brown. So, this has been a really good growing year with a really good late summer and fall for the trees and plants. That’s why they're going through their entire process of, if you will, deconstruction of the photosynthetic apparatus, apparatus, and leaves.”

Each Tree Species Displays Different Vibrant Colors

Dr. Kolb described the amazing palette of colors that Mother Nature is displaying this fall.

“If you go in the mountains right now the Western Larch is turning yellow, and the reds underneath are huckleberries because when they deconstruct their chlorophyll, they really reflect a lot of red light, but in town, we see that the Silver Maples are just an absolutely brilliant red this year. The Sugar Maples are more of a pink color or pinkish red. Norway Maples tend to turn more just yellow as do the Cottonwoods as also Ash trees turn yellow. Some of the Oak trees will also turn a beautiful red color.”

Dr. Kolb writes and produces the Montana Forestry Minute that airs on Townsquare Media stations every weekday.

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