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Desert Diary
Plants/Color Change


As the long fingers of Old Man Winter gradually creep southward, he sends cooler temperatures out as his advance guard. The cool air, along with the shortening days, signals many plants that it's time to prepare for their winter rest. Although most plants in the Chihuahuan Desert don't change colors, there are some, like those hidden away in McKittrick Canyon in the Guadalupe Mountains, that do.

Plants use chlorophyll to make food as they gather energy from the sun. Its green color is enough to overpower the other hues in the leaves. As winter approaches, the chlorophyll in the leaves is lost. But once it's gone, the other colors finally have their moment of splendor! Reds, oranges, and yellows explode from the trees in a final blaze of glory before the leaves are dropped and the plants wait for warmer temperatures to once again don their gowns of green.
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Kodi R. Jeffery, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

View within McKittrick Canyon

Fall colors in McKittrick Canyon, Guadalupe Mountains. Big-toothed Maple leaves have lost their chlorophyll, revealing the reds and oranges remaining. Photograph by Kodi R. Jeffery.