Yellow goldenrod. Blue sky. All that is needed is red, and we have the primary colors. We do! See that bright red hawthorn fruit and that splotch of scarlet leaves on the maple tree beginning to turn? Color ... it dazzles our eyes, and never more so than at this time of year. Such fortunate animals are we to see and appreciate the artistic quality of the colors that can be seen in the Chautauqua Watershed.
As much as we enjoy seeing it, the colors of flowers and fruit have a larger purpose. The yellow goldenrod is buzzing with pollinators. They see the golden flowers like we see McDonald's golden arches, paying for their fast food by carrying pollen. A similar relationship exists between a bird and a berry. The bird pays for its lunch when the seeds it ingests with the fruit are excreted and thus planted with a little fertilizer. Sometimes, however, a bright color can be a warning. The flashy orange and black of a Monarch Butterfly warns wise birds of the insect's toxicity.
Some colors just are colors, without any particular adaptive quality. Take those scarlet maple leaves. Leaves supplied with water and nutrients maintain chlorophyll, a green pigment responsible for converting light energy into food. When their role as a food factory comes to an end, which is approaching winter for our maple leaves, the leaves are cut off from their water and nutrient supply. Chlorophyll is no longer maintained, and its true colors are revealed, the pigments other than chlorophyll. What those pigments are depends on the plant species.
Fields of goldenrod and blue skies are a common sight in the Chautauqua Watershed this time of year and give area residents a chance to enjoy the beauty of fall’s colors.
Photo by Tina Nelson
The reason the sky is blue is pure physics. As you know light on Earth comes from the sun, which means the sunlight has to pass through the Earth's atmosphere. On its way through, most of the blue light is absorbed by the molecules in the atmosphere and re-radiated out of the molecules in all directions. This is called Rayleigh scattering. The rest of the light, which includes all the other colors, passes through. That means there is more blue light up in the sky. So no matter where you look, you will see blue.
Regardless of why and how the colors grace our beautiful Chautauqua Watershed landscape as summer has turned into fall, they are good for the human spirit. Enjoy the kaleidoscope, and let your spirit be lifted.
The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local nonprofit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty, and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands, and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or call 664-2166.