Red Fall Leaves: What Are They?
The name “red” refers to the color of leaves. A red leaf is a leaf that turns from greenish white to reddish brown when it gets wet. The color change occurs because the water evaporates off the surface of the leaf, leaving behind a layer of dead cells called phloem. Phloem is what carries nutrients to the plant’s roots. When these cells are damaged or destroyed, the root system cannot function properly and the leaf will die.
In fact, red leaves occur naturally in many plants. However, they have been used as decoration since ancient times. For example, red wine bottles were made from grapes that had turned red due to exposure to sunlight during harvest time!
Red dye was also added to make them look more attractive and appetizing.
Today, red leaves are often used in decorative ways. Some examples include:
Decorative tea sets and cups (such as those made by the Japanese)
Paintings and wall hangings (such as those made by Dutch artists)
Furniture and other household items (such as those made by Chinese craftsmen)
Food packaging such as candy wrappers, fruit jars, etc.
The fact that leaves turn red in the fall is due to exposure to sunlight, so the change of season is a very important factor. This change can be seen on all trees that contain chlorophyll, a green pigment which allows plants to make their own food (photosynthesis). The green pigment is not stable and turns brown when it reacts with oxygen.
During this process, the leaf takes on a yellowish or orangish hue. As a result, red leaves are actually dead.
Leaves naturally shed in the fall, and at this point they’re completely red. As the days get shorter and temperatures drop, the leaf stops producing chlorophyll and loses its green color. In some trees, such as ash and linden, some leaves turn yellow, orange or even brown before they fall off.
Ecosystems are greatly affected by the changing of the leaves. In autumn, squirrels gather and store large amounts of nuts to eat during the winter. Some birds such as the cardinal and the goldfinch flock to the south in the fall.
On the other hand, some animals such as bears and raccoons go into a state of hibernation, while others such as chipmunks become more active in search of food to store for the winter.
Sometimes red leaves are used in traditional medicinal remedies. For example:
They’re used to ease the pain of hemorrhoids if applied as a paste.
Infusions of red leaves have been used to treat bleeding gums.
The juice of crushed red leaves has been used as an antidote for spider bites.
Red leaves are also used in folk magic and art. For instance:
They’re used as ingredients in spells and charms, sometimes with the addition of honey.
They’re placed beneath pillows to give people pleasant dreams.
They’re scattered around the house for good luck.
They’re used to make face paints and dyes for wool and leather.
Red leaves are also used in art as ingredients for different types of paint. For instance:
They’re mixed with linseed oil (pressed from flax seeds) to make a watercolor paint called Venetian red.
They’re mixed with egg yolk and white vinegar to make a type of paint known as Indian red.
They’re used to make vermilion, also known as Chinese red or cinnabar red, which has been treasured since ancient times.
Red leaves have been used as food additives (called natural food coloring) for centuries. For example:
They’re used to make red velvet cake, red candies and other deserts, and red icing and frosting.
They’re used in meat products such as hotdogs, ham and bologna. These are called “pickled meats.”
Red leaves are also used in the production of wine, vinegar, candy, medicine and chewing tobacco.
Since it’s believed that red leaves have healing powers, they’ve been used in traditional medicines for centuries. For example:
A poultice of red leaves has been used to soothe skin irritations.
Red leaves have been used as ingredients in plasters or salves to treat joint pain and rheumatism.
Decoctions of red leaves have been used to ease heartburn, cure stomach ulcers and smooth digestion.
The ashes of silver birch (Betula pendula) are traditionally used to make soap. When mixed with salt and cassia (cinnamon), the resulting mixture has been used to treat ringworm.
Silver birch is one of several types of trees traditionally used in Russian, Polish and German folk magic and folklore as ingredients in divining rods.
Sometimes red leaves are used as dyes for wool, leather and wood. For instance:
They’re traditionally used to dye the coats of British Royal Guards in a specific shade of red called cherry-ripe.
They’re used to make redcoats, which are bright red wool coats worn by British soldiers during the War of 1812.
Many Native American tribes such as the Hopi, Pima, Navajo and Shoshone traditionally use the inner bark of silver birch, also known as white birch or canebrake willow, to make baskets, utensils, rope and other items.
Red leaves are also used in folk art such as paintings, wood carving and even architecture. For instance:
In the 1700s, the popular 18th century painter Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88) created a portrait of a child entitled The Blue Boy that’s still famous today. In the original painting, the child is wearing a blue jacket and a red cloak with a blue lining. The blue in the jacket is due to a pigment called smalt, which was made from ground up blue tiles.
The red in the cloak is believed to come from the fact that Gainsborough used red leaves to accentuate the color contrast with the blue smalt pigment.
In the 1700s, the German-born architect and furniture maker George Ohme (1701-65) designed an elaborate baroque staircase for a mansion in London. For the handrail, he used a type of wood known as Honduras rosewood that’s famous for its richly veined red color. This type of wood is so valuable and rare that at one time it was illegal to export it from its native Central America.
However, in the late 1700s and early 1800s, it was so popular that merchants began to smuggle it out of the country in large quantities. One such merchant by the name of Henry Hopwood apparently took 70,000 board feet (336 cubic meters) with him when he returned to England in 1812. The mansion that features this staircase is now owned by the wealthy Spedwell family who have made it their private residence for five generations.
In the 1800s, the German artist and printmaker Thomas Couture (1815-79) was commissioned to create a series of paintings based on the life of Jesus. One of these paintings is called The Sermon on the Mount, which depicts Jesus preaching to his disciples on a mountainside. During this scene, one of the disciples is shown writing down what Jesus is saying with an inkwell and quill pen made from red leaves.
In the 1800s, German nature writer and artist Eduard Morike (1809-87) traveled extensively in South America and became fascinated with its wildlife, culture and people. While in the jungles of Brazil one day, he suddenly felt very sick from an unknown disease. He immediately lay down under a tree to rest and soon fell asleep.
In his semi-conscious state, he had a vivid dream in which an old Indian woman approached him. She held a small pot of steaming liquid and asked him if he would like some to cure his illness. When he said yes, she gave him a drink from the pot. Instantly he felt better and proceeded to ask her who she was. To this, she simply smiled at him and said “You are my son.”
When Morike woke up, he immediately felt well again and got up from under the tree. He later wrote a short story about this strange dream called The Red Mother. The story was very popular among his friends and acquaintances, and to this day, the concept of “the Red Mother” has entered into German folkore.
More about this will be discussed later in this article.
To the ancient Egyptians, red was considered the color most closely associated with life and vitality. They used it to color the skin of their gods because they wanted to symbolize how alive the gods were. It’s often described as the most important and dominant color in Egyptian art.
In the Bible, Jesus wears a red robe in the famous painting by artist Michelangelo called The Last Supper. This garment is called a chiton and it’s a type of garment worn by Jewish men during the first century. A synodic period of Mars comprises thirty such chitons (roundings).
The color of blood, red is associated with power, anger, passion and danger. It has been used to represent warning and caution, as well as enthusiasm, zeal and encouragement. In China, red is considered the color of good luck.
This makes red perfect for holidays and other festive occasions. In America it is traditionally considered the color of love, but in England it is associated with anger.
In ancient Egypt, red was associated with the blood of life, which was thought to be formed within the body. It was seen as a symbol of unity and the binding factor of the nation. In their art, the Egyptians always depicted their gods with red faces to symbolize their vitality and life.
In fact it was common belief that if you reached the afterlife, your face would be permanently red.
Numerous American Indian tribes believe that the soul lives within the heart, which is why it is often referred to as the “heart soul”. To some Native American tribes, the heart was not only considered the seat of the soul, but also the source of wisdom and knowledge. This leads to where we get the expression “follow your heart”.
According to their legends, when a creature dies its heart stops beating and no more access to wisdom is gained. The following colors have been associated with the heart:
The color yellow is the color of optimism. It is associated with happiness, joy, and warmth. It makes people feel cheerful.
In many languages, the words for the color yellow and happiness have a strong connection. In America, we often say, “Let’s paint the town red” to signify the pursuit of fun and enjoyment. This idiom comes from the fact that in earlier centuries, the British government would often designate one street in each town or district as the only one where prostitution would be allowed. You can imagine what that one street was called. Prostitutes would often dress in red clothes so that they could be easily identified by their customers. Since that time, the phrase has come to mean doing anything for fun.
In China, people consider yellow to be a sign of infidelity and mistrust. In ancient Egypt, yellow was the color of shame. They believed that the gods had flesh colored skin, and if a person was exposed to too much sunlight, their skin would turn a shade of dark yellow.
This was seen as a sign of sin. In India, however, yellow is a sacred and holy color.
The color blue has always been associated with depth and stability. It is a soothing color that makes people feel calm and peaceful. Light blues are considered to be cool, while darker blues are more associated with warmth.
In Christianity, blue is the color of trust and loyalty. It is also the symbol of sincerity and devotion. It is sometimes associated with sadness because it is a common color for mourning attire.
Blue is also an indicator of truth. To “call something blue” means to swear that it is true. This comes from the fact that in the early American court systems, people were asked if they were swearing to tell the truth on a stack of Bibles.
If they were lying, then they would be committing blasphemy by lying on top of a holy book.
The phrase “blue blood” comes from the Spanish concept “sangre azul” which means “blue blood.” It is used to describe people who are born into rich and powerful families. It comes from the fact that in the past, European aristocracy had less contact with the outside world.
Therefore, their skin was paler due to less exposure to the sun. The lower classes would often have a darker complexion which gave them a healthier look.
The color red has always been associated with emotion. In many Asian countries, it is a color that is avoided because it is associated with anger and death. In Western culture, we see it as a passionate and romantic color.
In America, we have the idiom “seeing red” which means to be so angry that your world turns to pure red. We also believe that someone’s face turns red when they are embarrassed or lie. This comes from a mistaken belief that human beings loose all control over their blood circulation at those times.
In many Asian countries, however, white is considered to be the color of death. It represents mourning and sorrow. This is because in these types of cultures, white is the lightest and most pure color, so they believe that when a person dies their spirit becomes lighter and more pure as well.
In many Native American cultures, black is considered to be the color of death. It is a very magical color; therefore it symbolizes the mystery and power of death.
In different parts of the world, colors carry different meanings. In most African countries, for example, the color white is a sign of mourning. It is the opposite in most European countries, where white is a sign of joy and celebration.
One of the most common color associations in our culture is red for danger and caution. In most other societies, however, red is a very happy and energetic color.
These are just some of the common color associations that are used in different cultures around the world.
Sources & references used in this article:
The adaptive significance of autumn leaf colours by DM Wilkinson, TN Sherratt, DM Phillip, SD Wratten… – Oikos, 2002 – Wiley Online Library
Early autumn senescence in red maple (Acer rubrum L.) is associated with high leaf anthocyanin content by R Anderson, P Ryser – Plants, 2015 – mdpi.com
Coevolution and the adaptive value of autumn tree colours: colour preference and growth rates of a southern beech aphid by CC Ramirez, B Lavandero… – Journal of Evolutionary …, 2008 – Wiley Online Library