Autumn leaf color is a phenomenon that affects the normally green leaves of many deciduous trees and shrubs by which they take on, during a few weeks in the autumn season, various shades of red, yellow, purple, and brown. The phenomenon is commonly called autumn colours or autumn foliage in British English and fall colors, fall foliage, or simply foliage in American English.
In some areas of Canada and the United States, "leaf peeping" tourism is a major contribution to economic activity. This tourist activity occurs between the beginning of color changes and the onset of leaf fall.
Deciduous plants were traditionally believed to shed their leaves in autumn primarily because the high costs involved in their maintenance would outweigh the benefits from photosynthesis during the winter period of low light availability and cold temperatures. In many cases this turned out to be over-simplistic — other factors involved include insect predation, water loss, and damage from high winds or snowfall.
Anthocyanins, responsible for red-purple coloration, are actively produced in autumn, but not involved in leaf-drop. A number of hypotheses on the role of pigment production in leaf-drop have been proposed, and generally fall into two categories: interaction with animals, and protection from non-biological factors.
According to the photoprotection theory, anthocyanins protects the leaf against the harmful effects of light at low temperatures. It is true that the leaves are about to fall and therefore it is not of extreme importance for the tree to protect them. Photo-oxidation and photo-inhibition, however, especially at low temperatures, make the process of reabsorbing nutrients less efficient. By shielding the leaf with anthocyanins, according to the photoprotection theory, the tree manages to reabsorb nutrients (especially nitrogen) more efficiently.