learning hub trees and plants

Fall Foliage in New York City: Why Trees Change Colors in Autumn and How to Identify Trees By Their Fall Leaves

trees in red, yellow, and orange fall colors near a lake

Every fall, New York City's streets and forests break out into a wild display of colors—from bold red, to sunshine yellow, to fiery orange. Whether you're exploring our parks in autumn or just taking a casual walk around the block, you can use our guide to find the best places to see the season in action!

What Changes the Leaf Color

Leaves change color in autumn because the amounts of chemical pigments inside the leaves change. As the days get shorter, leaves produce less chlorophyll, the chemical that makes them green, allowing the yellow, orange, and red pigments to show through.

The color of the autumn leaves depends on the species of tree; some species have more yellow and orange pigments (xanthophylls and carotenoids, respectively), while other trees will produce anthocyanins, the pigment that turns leaves red. 

Did You Know?

The yellow and orange pigments are actually present in leaves all year (you just can't see them because of the green chlorophyll)! Trees only start to produce the red pigments in late summer and as the chlorophyll breaks down. 

The intensity and timing of fall colors can be affected by weather, both in fall and earlier in the growing season. For example, sunny and dry conditions with cool nights in the fall can lead to more vibrant colors but low soil moisture resulting from droughts in the summer or fall could cause trees to change color earlier or even lose their leaves without changing color.

Explore Fall Leaves in New York City

Some trees to look for include white oak trees, the leaves of which develop a purple hue when they turn, and tulip trees and hickory trees, both of whose leaves turn yellow, and of course maple trees, whose reds, oranges, and yellow colors epitomize “fall colors.”

Use this fun guide to learn some of the common fall leaves you'll find in NYC.

Ready to Go Exploring?

Take in the beauty of autumn in our parks or right on your block! 

trees with gold and red leaves

Fall Foliage Guide

Discover the best places to go fall leaf-peeping in our parks, and where to go exploring along our hiking trails!

Check out our Fall Foliage Guide

map of trees on a grid

Street Tree Map

Trying to guess the name of a tree in its fall colors? Find it on our NYC Street Tree Map! And, learn more about trees in your neighborhood.

Explore our Street Tree Map

flowering cherry tree

Trees and Plants in NYC Parks

Learn more about trees through the seasons, how we care for them, and how you can help out.

Learn more about our Trees and Plants

Was this information helpful?