The colourful story of leaves

La Motte's age-old oak trees are very popular during the warm months of the year when guests spend their time relaxing in their cooling shade. In autumn, however, the lush greenery changes into a splendour of orange, gold-brown and deep red that has passers-by rubbernecking to enjoy a view of the oak-tree lined avenue running up to the historic manor house on the estate.

But after the balmy days of autumn, when the cold and rain hit the Cape Winelands, the brave trees face the winter with bare arms. What happens to the lush greenery when autumn arrives? Why do the leaves change colour and eventually fall off?

Leaves are green because of the presence of chlorophyll, the ingredient responsible for photosynthesis. The yellow, orange and red colours we see in autumn are always present in the leaves but are dominated by the green. During autumn, when days are shorter and sunlight more mellow, less chlorophyll is produced and the green colour of the leave becomes less intense, allowing the other shades to shine through. When a leave colours into brown, it is usually because of the presence of tannins.

But why do the leaves eventually fall off?

At the base of each leaf is a special layer of cells that transports water between the leaf and tree during summer months. When the colder weather arrives, these cells turn into a cork-like substance prohibiting the flow between leaf and tree, the chlorophyll starts to disappear, the leaf changes colour and eventually falls off. During the winter, the tree is not producing food for energy. Similar to hibernation, only the essential systems are maintained during winter and the tree’s metabolism slows down. Read more.

While it seems almost cruel that the beautiful oak trees have to face winter without their foliage, visitors who enjoy the wonderful wine and food of the Franschhoek Valley during winter months will attest to the romantic picture of the historic Cape Dutch buildings through stark and bare branches.

Featured image: The Garden Team at La Motte enjoys the beauty of autumn. Fltr: Elvin, Andrew, Laurence, Harry, Reginald, Leonardo, Nicolian, Siphelele, Anthony

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