One of the great mysteries of living things is the presence of beauty. If your faith is “survival of the fittest,” you have no explanation for beauty. Things in the natural world often radiate incredible beauty that has no survival benefit or even threatens survival. The incredible color in birds and trees provides a classic example. Some birds have gorgeous colors that can make them vulnerable to predators.
Here in Michigan, we are witnessing another example of beauty with no survival value but seems designed for humans to enjoy. The green color we see in plants is due to chlorophyll, which allows plants to use photosynthesis. There are two kinds of chlorophyll molecules called chlorophyll A and chlorophyll B. Chlorophyll A absorbs blue light, and chlorophyll B absorbs red light. Green light is the highest energy of sunlight reaching Earth’s surface. Plants are green because the green light radiation is reflected away to protect the plants. In the fall of the year, the chlorophyll in the leaves is removed, and we see the remaining colors.
These facts explain why trees are green and the wisdom in the green color of chlorophyll. But why do the leaves have different colors when the chlorophyll is removed? In our area, the first fall colors that appear are the reds of sumac and poison ivy. Depending on the variety, maple trees have various colors of red, orange, and yellow. We also have multiple birch tree varieties, each with different fall colors.
Why should there be different colors we can’t see until the chlorophyll is gone? The chemistry that creates these colors is very complex. From an evolutionary view, all trees would have the one pigment that advances survival, but that is not the case. The picture gets even more complicated when we consider plants that never see sunlight, such as ferns and various grasses.
As we enjoy the incredible color in birds and trees, we can see beauty for the spiritual value it offers and the joy it brings. That is because we are created in the image of God, the creator of beauty.
— John N. Clayton © 2023
For a detailed discussion of chlorophyll, see Wikipedia.