Sunday, October 30, 2011

Star Anise vs. Anise...

(Star anise)
In the world of natural herbs and spices, I would say a fairly common question would probably be, "Are Anise and Star Anise the same thing, or are they related?"  The answer to both questions is 'no'.  Although they have similar liquorice-esque aromas, they are not related. Not only are the plants different in appearance, they are native to completely different parts of the world.  I shall explain...

Star Anise is an herb most know on sight for it's unique appearance.  Also known as Illicium Verum, Star Anise is comprised of 8 to 10 carpals (seed pods) from 1 to 3 centimeters long.  Its most commonly seen in its dried form which has a rough, brown appearance on the outside.  Inside, are shiny seeds of light brown to bronze.  The pods radiate from a central stalk creating its star-like design.
(Star anise plant)
Native to china and Vietnam, the Star Anise plant is an evergreen tree that is related to the Magnolia family.  The trees can grow anywhere from 26 to 40 feet tall.  Leathery "lanceolate" leaves (lance shaped leaves that are longer than they are wide) cover it, and its' flowers are greenish-yellow, or reddish-purple.  It begins to produce its small compound fruit after 15 years, and yields 3 annual harvests (the fruit is harvested just before it ripens and is dried). Difficult to cultivate, and rife with transplant problems, Star Anise is grown pretty much exclusively in China, Indo-China, and Japan.
(Left: star anise; Right: anise)
Anise (also known as pimpinella anisum) is an annual herb that is native to Egypt and the Mediterranean.  It produces oval, slightly curved seeds, that are in individual pods.  Anise is a plant that reaches 2 to 3 feet in height, and has parsley like lower leaves, and lacy upper leaves.  Its flowers are white and umbrella shaped.  Anise is grown in the U.S. as an alternative to fennel. Anise plants have a taproot, so like star anise it is hard to transplant successfully once matured.

(Pot of melon and star anise jam.)
Now to the culinary side of star anise.  It is said that it was first brought to Europe in dried form by an English sailor.  There seems to be a difference of opinion on when...some say the 16th Century, and others the 17th Century. After its European introduction, star anise was soon used to flavor syrups, jams, and puddings.

A popular spice with the Chinese, it is one of the spices in the popular Chinese '5-Spice Powder' which is comprised of Cinnamon, Fennel Seeds, Sichauan Peppercorns, Cloves, and Star Anise powder.  In the East, they use Star Anise in confectioneries, and meat dishes (pork and duck mainly).

The Mandarins chew on the whole dried fruit as a post-prandial (state of drowsiness , and relaxation after a meal) digestive, and a breath sweetener.  Star anise is also used to combat rheumatism and colic, and is a common flavoring in medicinal teas, pastilles, and cough mixes.
(Left: Anisette; Right: Absinthe)
Anise (also known as 'aniseed') is used in the production of two liqours, one a bit controversial.  The first of the two, and the one devoid of controversy, is Anisette.  Just as the name denotes, the main flavoring of Anisette is anise. Produced in the west, it is popular mainly in France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. In France, a similar liquor called Pastis is also popular, and is flavored with anise and liqourice.  In Italy, they produce a similar beverage known as Sambuca.

("The Absinthe Drinker" by Pablo Picasso)
The other more controversial of anise flavored beverages is Absinthe.  Made from herbs that include the flowers and leaves of Grande Wormwood, sweet Fennel, and green anise, Absinthe originated in the canton of Neuchatel in Switzerland.  Popular belief is that Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, a Frenchman living in Switzerland, created it as an all-purpose remedy in the late 1700's.  Absinthe's popularity grew in the mid-1800's when french troops were given it as a malaria treatment.  They brought their taste for it back with them, and it quickly became popular in bars and bistros. It gained quite a lot of popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in France, mainly from its close association to Bohemian culture.  It was a favorite of artists and writers.  Classified as a "spirit" due to it's high alcohol content, Absinthe was mainly consumed after being diluted with water.  Now for the controversy...present in very small quantities in absinthe, a chemical called Thujone was blamed for causing psychedelic effects.  Absinthe was portrayed as an addictive psychoactive drug, and was banned by the US and most Europeans countries by the year 1915.  It would eventually be discovered that the levels of Thujone in absinthe could not have the effects the drink was accused of causing, and that it had no more effect on drinkers than ordinary spirits.  Not until the early 1990's would Absinthe see its revival.  Many European countries reauthorized the sale of the anise flavored drink, and today nearly 200 brands are produced in a dozen countries.

(Group of Japanese women burning incense.)
As for metaphysical uses, all of the following relates to star anise, not just for its aroma but for its unique star shape.  It is a mystical herb and great component to any conjure/mojo bag.  Star anise is said to ward off the 'evel eye'; bring good luck in money and love matters; give clarity to health matters in the form of visions.  Place the whole dried pods near your bed for protection, purification, and to prevent nightmares.  The powdered bark of the tree is used in incense of Japanese temples, and the trees are planted around temples and on graves for consecration and protection.  It is revered by Buddhist monks and grown near their temples.  Burn the seeds and/or wear them as beads to increase psychic powers.  Placing a dish of the dried pods on an altar can give it power.  Also putting a dried pod to each of the four directions can give power.
(In terms of the "four directions", they can vary depending on pagan leanings, preferences, etc., and are all up for interpretation.  Here are some directional basics:  North (Earth); East (Fire); South (Air); West (Water).)

(Sixth Chakra, a.k.a. '3rd Eye Chakra')
Star anise is associated with the 6th ('3rd Eye') Chakra, which is located at the center of the forehead.  This Chakra influences our intuition, insight, clairvoyance, imagination, and perception.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Scorpio New Moon...

(Artist:  David Palladini)
Today (October 26, 2011) there is a New Moon in Scorpio, and it is quite fitting. It is the zodiacal sign that pertains to the 'darker' side of life, and deals with death, rebirth, and regeneration.  A lot of people have a deep seated fear of death, but there are different forms of 'death'.  There is the cut and dry relationship of life and death when looking at them on the face.  Then there is the deeper meaning of death in a more symbolic way when dealing with actions and emotions.  This New Moon signifies the need to revive and acknowledge painful and disturbing issues from our past, to put them to 'death' as it were.  We are about to experience the 'death' of another year, that will be followed by a darker rejuvenation period until light signals the return of a new year with the Winter Solstice (December 21st).  During this dark rejuvenation phase, slam that emotional garbage truck into reverse and unload all of the waste you've been hanging onto.  Be strong.  This is a potent time.

The celebration of Samhain (pronounced: Sow-wen) Is just around the corner. It is the pagan new year, and it marks the time when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is at its thinnest.  It's a time to honor death in all of it's aspects.
The Scorpio New Moon is also a Balsamic Moon.  When the Moon is in a Balsamic phase, it signals the need for our system to go through a psychic detox.  It's a time to pause, reflect, and let things go.  Don't downplay your part in those things you have filed away, and that are weighing you down.  Did you try?  Did you do your best?  Acknowledge it head on, and let it go.

Just as Samhain is a time when the veil between the living and the dead thins, a Balsamic Moon indicates a thinning of the veil between the conscious and subconscious.  It is a prime time to really pay attention to dreams. Our higher mind has important information to convey to us, and its means of communication is through our dreams.  Whether you are asleep dreaming, daydreaming,'s all good and productive stuff.  Everyone needs to connect with themselves.  Think of it as a part of over all health.  Get some alone time.  Getting out for a walk, writing, listening to music...everyone has their own means of "escape".  It is also said that during this particular lunar phase, we are more connected to the 'collective unconscious'.  That part of our minds works on a different system or level.  A hidden place that is more connected to the ethereal.

(Celtic Circle of Life)
Something that will help in getting through this transitional period is to take a cue from Libra, the sign of 'Balance'.  It is important to fairly balance the two extremes, the duality of 'life' and 'death'.  By balancing life with death, and vice-versa, we can achieve an inner balance of the two.  Probably the most common thing that prevents many of us from facing things, and looking to achieve balance and harmony in our lives and within ourselves is 'fear'.  It is our fears that hold us back from the 'Circle of Life', where everything flows freely and unobstructed.  Recognize the fear for what it excuse to ignore, and avoid.  Be strong and push fear aside.  Release the 'dead' stuff, so new 'life' can brightly flourish.

During this period assess how 'honest' and 'open' a person you are towards others, and towards yourself.  Being open can sometimes create a problem in a relationship, but there is also the potential to forge a deeper more lasting relationship.  As they say...honesty is the best policy.  This phase also stresses to gaining a greater understanding of conflicts associated with what you have, and what you desire.  It's definitely not a time for the drastic, but it is a time to reflect on those things you truly want to create or transition so you will feel more fulfilled in the long run.

Looking at some of the other planets and their positions in all of this indicates strength and potential for growth.  I'll break some of it down...

  • Venus and Mars are in Scorpio, as well.  This is a prime time to 'plant some seeds'.  Been thinking of a new project?  There is great potential for abundance.

  • The Sun and New Moon are grounded and enriched by Pluto in Capricorn, as they oppose Jupiter.  Expansive opportunity is indicated.

  • Jupiter is trine to Pluto, and energized by the Moon.  Productive investments are there to made, but not just monetarily.  Make investments in 'energy'.  There is plenty of it to tap into.

  • The New Moon is opposite Jupiter, and a sextile Pluto.  With overall positive energy at the forefront, difficulties in finding happiness and evolving within ourselves and in relationships with others might present themselves.  Sextile Pluto will be giving off great force and power.  Relax, focus, and try to tap into the good energy to carry you through.  You may experience forces at work that might seem to be out of your control, that will push you into a conflict in order to resolve an issue.  Not every issue in your personal housecleaning will be easy.

This is a busy and important Moon phase.  Out with the old and in with the new.


Trine:  An aspect of easy energy.  It creates an ease in life, enhances natural talents or abilities, and is an enjoyable area of life.  Trines are generally positive.

Sextile:  An aspect, it contributes positive energy.  It creates happiness, an easy going attitude, enjoyment.  This area represents loving energy.  It is easy to maintain.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Lovely Lavender...

Lavender has always been a favorite herb of mine.  I love it's scent.  I have an eye pillow that is filled with its dried flowers.  Just laying it across my eyes and lying back for a short bit can help me get rid of headaches, and completely relax. From time to time, I have burned lavender in the form of loose incense during meditation.  I have also used lavender essential oil for aromatherapy. Not too long ago, I made a blogging friend who has a home in Provence.  Over the months she has posted many pictures of the flowering lavender fields.  So bright and beautiful that I can almost smell their aroma.  I imagine the perfume of all of those plants being quite intoxicating.

(Dried lavender flowers)
The history of lavender, or should I say the history of 'the use of' lavender, dates back over 2000 years.  The name of lavender is said to have started with the Romans, and translated from the Latin verb "lavare", which means "to wash".  The Greeks are said to have called it "Nardus" after the city of Naardus in Syria, near the Euphrates, and many just referred to is as "Nard", which could be a simplified version of "Spikenard" which refers to the lavender flowers' shape.  (There is another aromatic herb also called 'Spikenard' that grows in China, Nepal, and India.)  The Bible is said to mention "Spikenard", and Mary is said to have used lavender on baby Jesus, and to anoint Jesus' body for burial after the Crucifixion.

Going back to Ancient times, ancient Egyptians used the lavender flower for embalming, and in cosmetics.  Jars containing unguent traces (a salve or ointment used to sooth and heal) that had elements resembling lavender, were found in the tomb of Tutankhamen.  Highly valued, only High Priests and those of royal blood were said to use lavender in medicines.

In Ancient Rome, lavender was recognized for its healing and antiseptic properties.  It was used as a form of bug repellent, and was also used in washing.

(Left: Dioscorides, Right: Lavender page from 'De Materia Medica')

The first written record of lavender usage is from 77 AD, and was written by Greek military physician, Dioscorides, who served under Emperor Nero.  Dioscorides describes the medical uses of the herb in his 5-volume work entitled "De Materia Medica".  Lavender (when ingested) is said to relieve indigestion, headaches, and even sore throats.  It was used to cleanse external wounds and burns, and was carried by Roman soldiers to treat war wounds.  Aromatically, it was strewn about floors to sweeten the air, was used in the form of incense for religious ceremonies, and Romans heavily perfumed themselves with it.
(Senanque Abbey in Provence, France)
By the time the Middle ages rolled around, lavenders popularity waned a bit. The herb was mostly used by Monks and Nuns.  It was because of monasteries that the lore of lavender was preserved.  An edict by the Holy Roman Empire in 812 AD, charged monks with growing vegetables, medicinal plants, flowers, and trees.  Lavender was grown at Merton Abbey, which became the center of lavender production for England.

Lavender would see a renaissance in Tudor England.  King Henry VIII 'disolved' monasteries, so lavender became more of a fixture in personal gardens, usually the gardens of 'ladies of the manor'.  It was often grown next to the rooms where laundry was done, and washed items were laid on top of lavender to dry and absorb the plants lovely aroma.

Queen Elisabeth was a fan of lavender and used it in a tea to treat her frequent migraines.  King Charles VI of France was also a lover of the aromatic herb, and had his seat cushions stuffed with it.

(Engraving of the Great Plague in Marseille)
In 16th century France, Lavender was regarded as an effective protection from infection.  In the 17th century, lavender was found in most herbal medicines and was given the distinction of being a cure all.  A prevalent medicine, great interest developed for lavender, and street vendors popped up everywhere. Prices skyrocketed in the year 1665 when the Great Plague happened. Lavender was said to protect against it.

(Right: Queen Victoria)
During Victorian times, lavender had become a quite fashionable aromatic. With ladies especially.  They would put the dried flowers in small muslin pouches that would be placed in wardrobes, and between sheets.  Young women of courting age would place it in their cleavage to lure prospective suitors.  Queen Victoria was a great admirer of lavender, and appointed an official purveyor, known as Miss Sarah Sprules, "Purveyor to the Queen".  It was also during the Victorian Era that a small suburb of London known as Mitcham became the center of lavender oil production.  English lavender products became known all over the world.

(Lavender essential oil)
In the US, the Shakers grew lavender commercially.  Because of it's extreme popularity, in time lavender would become a victim to over usage.  It would see a loss of popularity in the early 20th century, when it became associated with "old ladies".

(Rene Gattefosse)
In modern times, lavender gained an all new popularity via aromatherapy. Rene Gattefosse, a founder of modern day aromatherapy, confirmed the healing and antiseptic properties of lavender through personal experience. After burning his hand severely, he used lavender oil to treat his wound.  His pain subsided, and the healing was quick leaving no scar behind.

Today, the largest producer of lavender is Provence, France.  The Romans can be thanked for that as they were the ones who first brought the plant into that area.  Some other producers of lavender are Belgium, Spain, Australia, Japan, and the US.

(Symbol for the Crown Chakra)
These days, some of the metaphysical uses are to attract love, for protection, purification, longevity, and to induce sleep.  It is also quite useful for easing stress and depression.  Lavender is associated with the seventh or 'Crown' Chakra, opening us to enlightenment and wisdom.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Leaves & Water...

There is what appears to be a forgotten bird bath that I pass on one of my walk routes.  It has become a regular source of photographs for me.  It's "bowl" goes through changes...water level rises and falls, various pieces of flotsam float silently on it's still surface, or roll back and forth in barely discernible movements on it's bottom.  (I posted a few pictures I took there in the post titled "A Stroll, Some Leaves, and Haiku".)  Taking pictures of it has become a regular thing for me.  I really like the different elements of each the various pieces of plant life create textures in the water depending on size and the depth they are sitting at; whether there is any kind of wind ripple; the shadows on the waters' surface in contrast to the bowl's bottom and the leaves, etc.  I let some time pass since my last visit to the bird bath, and since it has been roughly 2 1/2 weeks since I was last there, I went by.  I am really pleased with the pictures I got.  Some of them are below.      

(All photos in this post are by:  Lisa Erin Brown)

Costumes & Candy...

Halloween, my favorite holiday of the year, is just around the corner.  There is an energy about the day that is  palpable.  Magical, mystical, mysterious, and mischievous.  So many nuances and levels to it.  The layers of All Hallows have shifted and increased in number as I have gotten older, but when thinking of the day and it's approach, my immediate sense memory 'go-to' is the Halloween of my youth.

(From right to left:  my brother, Mike; me; friends Susan and David Barbe.  This is a Polaroid shot.  I don't know the exact year the photo was taken, but I look to be around 5(?) which would put it around 1969.  No idea who the heck I was supposed to be dressed as...)

(Me post Trick or Treating
during the candy sorting
(Yeah, that's me on the right, along with the
lovely and talented Ms. Peggy Judy...
a.k.a. Molly Brandenburg.  This was at
a Halloween fundraiser for a theater
company Molly and I were members of in
Silverlake, California.  Photo is from the
I believe that I can safely say that the days of my Trick or Treating fun existed in another time with much different experiences than children today witness.  During the late-1960's and the 1970's, Trick or Treating wasn't plagued with the safety threats of today.  Yes, we were given the usual warnings of strangers and such, but my friends and I would journey out into the night without a worry.  At a certain point, my friends and I could walk through suburbia sans adult, and all would remain right with the world.  I have memories of walking down house lined streets, other groups of costumed kids dotting the dark scene here and there.  The widening shaft from an opening front door sending light out to a cry of 'TRICK OR TREAT'! Bags would be presented, and treats would fall in making a crinkly thud as they joined the other edibles in the bags' bottom.  We would get the usual fare, many of the treats being comparable to ones given out today.  Fun-size candy bars, Dum-Dum suckers, Sweet Tarts, Pixie Stix, and I have even seen the mysterious black and orange wax paper wrapped mystery sweet that I was never bold enough to open (something didn't feel right about a candy with a blank wrapper).  One major difference is the fact that handmade items have become a memory in terms of Halloweens of today.  Nothing other than pre-wrapped and purchased candy from the shelves of your local WalMart or Kroger is acceptable.  No popcorn balls, candied apples, or cookies.  No fresh fruit either.  Granted I would usually feel kind of gypped if someone handed out apples and oranges, but what would be wrong with that today?  There are so many concerns about health and obesity with kids, you would think that something like a banana or apple would be welcomed.  Oh well, moving right along...

Early on, my usual costume was a Gypsy, but I do remember being a Hobo a time or two.  No, not very original, but easy and comfortable.  I did get a bit more adventurous with my costume choices as I got older. One of the last years I went out, I painted my face like Peter Criss, the drummer for the band KISS.  Did a rather good job of painting my own face, too.  I don't recall how old I was the last time I Trick or Treated. I knew some kids who participated in the tradition into their mid teens.  I don't think I was that old...too old.

There were usually at least three or four of us when my friends and I would head out, and when we had had our fill of walking the streets ringing doorbells, we would go back to one of our houses and begin the sorting of the candy. Usually into two piles.  One for what we liked, and the other guessed it, the stuff we didn't like.  Once we finished that, the bartering would begin.  It worked out well, generally, as my friends didn't like what I liked and vice versa. Then there were the times my brother was present during the sorting phase. Being an older brother, he would mess with his little sisters head.  I seem to remember a story about there being rat hairs in '5th Avenue' candy bars. Repulsed by the news, I threw my bars to the side...which my brother would then eat because he liked them.  Ah, siblings...

(This 'shot' is of my mother in my brothers sombrero, and fake nose and can see the full 'get-up' in the photo near the top of the post.  Relax...the gun is a toy/fake gun...amazing how realistic it looks.  As I remember, we referred to this costume as the "Frito Bandito" costume.  If you are too young to know who the "Frito Bandito" is...)

(From about 1967 to 1971 or so, the "Frito Bandito" was the 'Frito's Corn Chips' mascot.  If the Bandito's voice sounds familiar, Mel Blanc voiced him...Blanc also voiced Speedy Gonzales.)

As an adult, my go to costume has become (on the whole) a Vampire.  I have a dress left over from my days in the SCA.  Cobwebs, fangs, and fake blood are easily attainable each year.  The dead leaves I have sometimes used are easy to get by just walking outside.  I think one of the last times I did dress up was for a Halloween fundraiser...a picture is above.  Good times.  

I haven't dressed up for Halloween in quite a few years now.  I do get a kick out of seeing kids in their costumes though.  It transports me back to my youth. Too bad we don't have Trick or Treaters here in Savannah....I miss it.  

The Origins of Trick or Treating

What about the history of Trick or Treating?  How did this yearly tradition get started?  It dates back quite a ways to the Middle Ages, only then it was known as "souling". The poor would go door to door on 'Hallowmas' (November 1st ~ All Saints Day) to receive food in return for prayers for the dead on the following day (November 2nd ~ All souls Day).  This tradition is said to have started in Britain and Ireland.

The first records of a tradition resembling Trick or Treating goes back to 1895, and the Irish and Scottish Halloween custom of "guising".  Individuals would 'disguise' themselves, and carrying lanterns fashioned from hollowed out turnips, would visit homes to get rewards of fruit, cakes, and even money.  There was also said to be an element of the tradition where the costumed children would tell a story, sing, or perform tricks to earn their treats. 
The first North American records of "guising" date back to 1911, when a newspaper article in Kingston, Ontario reported about children going "guising". 

"The Book of Hallowe'en", the first book length history of the holiday was written by Ruth Edna Kelly, in 1919.

The Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the 20th century and the 1920's did feature children, but none of them Trick or Treating.  It doesn't appear that the custom was a widespread practice until the 1930's, with the first appearances in the US in 1934.

Soul Cakes

These cakes are a Hallowmas, and Samhain, tradition.  Traditionally the cakes were given to "soulers".  Each cake that is eaten represents a soul being released from Purgatory.  They are usually filled with raisins or currants, and a variety of sweet spices that include allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Before baking, each cake is marked with the sign of the cross to signify them as alms.  (The ones pictured below are marked with a star, which would indicate that they were prepared for the celebration of Samhain, the star representing the pentacle.)

What follows is an extremely simplified variation of the Soul Cake.  There are plenty of recipes online that are more traditional if you want to give the practice a nod.

Refrigerated Roll-out Pie Crusts
2 Tablespoons Melted Butter
1 Cup Mixed Dried Fruit  (Raisins & Currants are in the traditional recipes)
2 Tablespoons Honey

Preheat oven to 375.  Roll out the pie crust, and cut into circles.  You can gauge the size of the circles based on the size of your muffin pan.  Use the crust circles to line each muffin cup.  Mix together butter, dried fruit, and honey. Scoop the fruit mixture into the pastry lined cups.  Bake for about 15 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before eating.

Ending off this post with "A Soalin", a song written by, and performed in this great video by, Peter, Paul, and Mary.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fall Leaves Fall...

Autumn is sublime.  The days shorten, which lengthens the mood filled night. The air grows crisp allowing us to enjoy the pleasure of a cozy sweater.  We are allowed to bear witness as nature passes into a form of hibernation for the winter months to come.  For a couple of months out of the year, we are able to witness what I find to be nature at it's most beautiful.  Gaia produces her palate and colors the trees in an array of vibrant and muted shades.  She plays us the meditative melody of Autumn breezes swirling chaotically around and through branches and leaves, making the gradually changing flora whisper against each other.  Autumn is about sipping a piping mug of cocoa while watching the leaves dance their way gracefully to the ground.  Autumn is about throwing on a warm jacket and scarf, strolling along quiet paths while listening to the dull crunch of leaves under your feet, and feeling the soft breath of the wind play over you.  Many forms of life may be preparing for winter slumber, but it is during this time that I feel the most alive.  I love these Autumn months, and I am so glad they are finally here.

As many people do in various places, Autumn drives are a kind of ritual. Hopping in the car on an autumnal Sunday, and heading out in search of lands more bucolic to see the changing Autumn leaves.  At least I think the traditional day for leaf viewing trips is Sunday.  I haven't broached the subject yet here in the homestead, but I believe I can safely say that a Sunday drive won't happen any time soon.  It's football season.  Personally, I don't care much for the sport (I dig hockey), but me thinks an Autumn leaf viewing drive will have to take place during the week.  I could venture out on my own to look at leaves, but what would be the fun in that?  A day will be scheduled, pictures will be snapped, and then pictures will be posted.  Stay tuned...

Since I have been blathering about Autumn's leaves, I feel the need to get a little botanical and add a section on why leaves change color during the Fall. Going back a bit to the Science Classes of my youth, the leaf changing process starts with a process you might have heard of (*grin*) called Photosynthesis.  In case some memories need refreshing, Photosynthesis is a chemical process that happens in plants. Water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight are used to create 'food' for the producing organism, usually in the form of sugars.  The waste product? Oxygen, which is pretty important to us humans.  Now for the green portion of the equation...Chlorophyll.  It is vitally important in Photosynthesis, as it is the key component in obtaining energy from light.  There is a wealth of extremely detailed information on Photosynthesis and it's many nuances, but I am going to keep my explanation short and sweet to get back to the main focus here.

As you know, Spring and Summer are rife with greenery.  The reason for that is the days are longer, so there is more sunlight during an average day.  That sunlight is what keeps the leaves green due to the dominant presence of Chlorophyll, which over powers and masks other colors from being produced.

Then at the end of September, Autumn officially starts and we see the days shorten.  Shorter days = less sunlight.  As the days shorten, there is less and less Chlorophyll.  Simultaneously, as the Chlorophyll is decomposing (a process that is at a constant which causes the green leaf color to fade) there is a surge in sugar production.  The higher concentration of sugars causes an increase in the production of Anthocyanin pigments.  A leaf that contains primarily Anthocyanins will appear red in color.  (Ex:  Maple leaves commonly turn red due to high levels of glucose trapped in the leaves.)

Another pigment that can be found in some leaves is called a Carotenoid. Carotenoids are not dependent on light, so production doesn't diminish due to the shortening of days.  These leaves can be yellow, orange, or red.  However, most Carotenoids are found in yellow leaves.

If a leaf has a high concentration of both Anthocyanin and Carotenoid pigments, it will most likely be red.

There are leaves that may have an absence of the two pigments, which allows other chemicals to work their magic.  For example, Oak leaves create a high amount of tannins as a waste product.  Those tannins produce a brown color. 

As we all know, with the shorter days of Autumn comes cooler temperatures. Temperature can effect chemical reaction rates, but the main part of the 'leaf color change' equation is daylight.  If an Autumn is filled with mostly sunny Fall days, then you will see more bright colors like reds and oranges.  If an Autumn is filled with overcast days, you will see more browns and yellows.  This concludes today's lesson...there will not be a quiz.  (*grin*)

While I was doing my usual snooping around on the 'net', I found a cool site that caters to people who like to view Autumn leaves.  The site has a list of "foliage cams" with live feeds from Canada to North Carolina.  If you are a "Leaf Peeper" (that's what they call people who like to view Autumn leaves...sounds kind of pervy) and want to check out leaves in other places, then this is the site for you.  Just click on this link.

Happy leaf looking!