Autumn has arrived at Gravetye Manor, with blazing displays of warm colours. One of our most striking specimens is an Acer japonicum, which has coloured up magnificently at the end of the croquet lawn, creating a strong focal point. The orange and yellow pigments of autumn are ever present in its leaves, but remain masked by green chlorophyll during the growing season. The underlying colours are only revealed when the green molecules break down towards the end of summer.
The production of red foliage is another story. Scientists have long been baffled over the fact that trees would expend so much energy on the production of red pigment in leaves, as its production only starts as summer turns to autumn. Maples alone have been found to create the red pigment as part of chemical warfare, also known as allelopathy. As the red leaves are shed and break down on the ground, the pigment is released into the soil where it kills nearby saplings from other species, thereby removing competition for valuable resources.
This year you may also be lucky enough to catch a rare combination, as the birches still cling to their yellow leaves, a sight that rarely coincides with the burning red foliage of our stunning maple.
So enjoy the spectacle while it lasts! It’s not every year you’ll get to see this autumn duet.