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Ann Bot. 2008 Sep;102(3):361-6. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcn101. Epub 2008 Jun 21.

Red reveals branch die-back in Norway maple Acer platanoides.

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  • 1University of Helsinki, Department of Ecological and Environmental Sciences, Niemenkatu 73, 15140 Lahti, Finland.



Physiological data suggest that autumn leaf colours of deciduous trees are adaptations to environmental stress. Recently, the evolution of autumn colouration has been linked to tree condition and defence. Most current hypotheses presume that autumn colours vary between tree individuals. This study was designed to test if within-tree variation should be taken into account in experimental and theoretical research on autumn colouration.


Distribution of red autumn leaf colours was compared between partially dead and vigorous specimens of Norway maple (Acer platanoides) in a 3-year study. In August, the amount of reddish foliage was estimated in pairs of partially dead and control trees. Within-tree variation in the distribution of reddish leaves was evaluated. Leaf nitrogen and carbon concentrations were analysed.


Reddish leaf colours were more frequent in partially dead trees than in control trees. Reddish leaves were evenly distributed in control trees, while patchiness of red leaf pigments was pronounced in partially dead trees. Large patches of red leaves were found beneath or next to dead tree parts. These patches reoccurred every year. Leaf nitrogen concentration was lower in reddish than in green leaves but the phenomenon seemed similar in both partially dead and control trees.


The results suggest that red leaf colouration and branch condition are interrelated in Norway maple. Early reddish colours may be used as an indication of leaf nitrogen and carbon levels but not as an indication of tree condition. Studies that concentrate on entire trees may not operate at an optimal level to detect the evolutionary mechanisms behind autumnal leaf colour variation.

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