Autumn Foliage

Image: detail of "On the Saco River" by Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), German-American landscape painter.


Foliage is a very euphonic word of Old French origin, associated with leaves, trees, and nowadays in particular with autumnal leaves that amaze us every year with so bright and warm colours, caressing our eyes and our hearts.

We learn very young at school, why leaves change their colour in autumn. Yes, we live in the world of technological and scientific progress, and the amazing phenomenon of the annual burst of nature colours is not a mystery for us. But for our ancestors it was a mystery. A mystery resolved only by the end of the 18th century. And before it...

Native American Legends

One of the most popular tales related to the change of leaves' colour in autumn is an Iroquois legend “The hunting of the Great Bear” (the Iroquois, also known as the Haudenosaunee or the "People of the Longhouse", are a league of several nations and tribes of indigenous people of North America).


Image: Ursa Major, Astronomical chart showing a bear forming the constellation. By Sidney Hall, English cartographer, 1825.

The legend tells about four brothers who were skilled hunters and happened to chase the Great Bear Nyah-gwaheh, that possessed magical powers and tormented a nearby village. With a lot of difficulties they managed to catch the Bear’s trail and kill it, but they found themselves in the high sky, where they had got during the chase. Furthermore, the Great Bear came to life again and the brothers had to restart the hunt.

From then on, according to the old tale, each autumn the hunters chase the Great Bear across the skies and kill it. As they hit it with spears, the blood falls down from the heavens and colours the leaves of the maple trees scarlet.

(For the full version of the legend please visit

European Beliefs

In Europe from the ancient times leaves of trees were believed to know all secrets and to give them up to those who knew how to consult them.

In many beliefs, leaves were thought to possess souls, or to be inhabited by some kind of supernatural beings. Thus, the rush of autumn leaves could be considered a cheerful dance of the little red, yellow and brown elves.


Across Northern, Western and Central Europe a folk myth about Wild Hunt was spread - a phantasmal group of fearful huntsmen, sometimes associated with the furious autumn and winter winds. And, by some tales, the wood nymphs called Moss Maidens were some of Wild Hunt's victims, associated in their turn with autumn leaves, torn violently from the branches and whirled away by the wintry gale.

In Slavic mythology, the fallen leaves were considered shelter for the wood spirits called Lesavki, that fell into sleep from autumn till the end of summer.


Homer in Iliad compares the race of mankind to leaves:

"Like leaves on trees the race of man is found,

now green in youth, now withering on the ground;

another race the following spring supplies;

they fall successive and successive rise…”


Greek Mythology

In Greek mythology there is a story about the Rape of Persephone, which is believed to explain the origin of seasons change.

Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, tried hard to hide her daughter Persephone from the company of the Olympian deities and rejected all gifts from the gods wooing her daughter. One day Hades (god of the underworld) abducted Persephone against her will and carried her down to the underworld. Demeter searched for her daughter all over the earth ceaselessly and became very depressed. The seasons halted; living things ceased their growth, then began to die.

Image: "The Rape of Proserpine" by Niccolò dell'Abbate, 16th century Italian Mannerist painter. (Proserpine is the character of the Roman mythology analogue to Greek Persephone)

Faced with the extinction of all life on earth, Zeus sent his messenger Hermes to the underworld to bring Persephone back. Hades agreed to release her if she had eaten nothing while in his realm; but Persephone had eaten a small number of pomegranate seeds. This bound her to Hades and the underworld for certain months of every year. Every year, when Persephone must go back underground, her mother once again falls into a depression, the leaves fall and winter starts.


(based on texts from


Norse Legends


In Viking lore there were legends about Jokul Frosti ("icicle frost", known also as Jack Frost), who is responsible for winter frost, leaving frosty patterns on the windows and colouring the autumn foliage by his icy touch on the trees. Jack Frost is sometimes described or depicted with paint brush and bucket colouring the autumn leaves red, yellow, purple and orange.


There is a goddess in the Norse mythology associated with the seasons change, apples and vegetation: Idun, or Iðunn. In the story “Idun Falls to the Nether World” it is narrated that Idun was once sitting upon the branches of the sacred ash Yggdrasil when, growing suddenly faint, she loosed her hold and dropped to the ground beneath, and down to the lowest depths of Nifl-heim (Nether world, “mist world”, a realm of primordial ice and cold). There she lay, pale and motionless, gazing with fixed and horror-struck eyes upon the gruesome sights of Hel’s realm (Hel was the goddess of the underworld), trembling violently the while, like one overcome by penetrating cold. Seeing that Idun did not return, the major god Odin sent her husband Bragi (god of poetry) and others to search for her, giving them a white wolfskin to wrap her in and try to rouse her from the stupor which had taken possession of her. When they found her, Idun was in a great woe, refused to speak or move, and tears ran continuously down her pallid cheeks. Bragi decided to stay with her in the Nether world until she would be ready to return. The sight of Idun’s woe oppressed him so sorely that he had no heart for his usual merry songs, and the strings of his harp were mute while he remained in the underworld. In this myth Idun’s fall from Yggdrasil is symbolical of the autumnal falling of the leaves, which lie limp and helpless on the cold bare ground until they are hidden from sight under the snow, associated with the wolfskin sent by Odin to keep them warm; and the cessation of the birds’ songs is represented by Bragi’s silent harp.


(based on the text from the book Myths of the Norsemen. From the Eddas and Sagas by H. A. Guerber. London, George G. Harrap & Company, 1909)

Image: "Bragi sitting playing the harp, Iðunn standing behind him", 1846, by Nils Johan Olsson Blommér (1816-1853), Swedish painter.


Scientific Researches


In 1780, the famous English chemist Joseph Priestley found that plants could "restore air which has been injured by the burning of candles", that is produce oxygen. That discovery led to a series of experiments and researches in the following years all over Europe, during which photosynthesis and chlorophyll were discovered. So today we know that it is due to the chlorophyll decay in the leaves during autumn, that their green colour fades replaced by the oranges and reds of carotenoids.

(based on,

to learn more about the topic visit also


Fall Foliage Video Gallery

Devote yourself a minute of relax with beautiful images of the fall foliage, this unique experience of the autumn colours rhapsody. There is nothing more inspiring than Nature!



For more videos go to the related Fall Foliage Gallery

Leaf Peeping in the United States and Canada


In the 20th century in America spread a new kind of tourism: Leaf peeping, or Fall foliage tourism. From Canada and the Northeast United States, to the Southeast and Midwest United States, the foliage season begins in early September in the northern regions and ends in southern locations in late October or early November. Every year, people flock to these areas to take in the fall colours and to catch a glimpse of natures splendor.


To discover colourful locations in Canada please visit


Foliage reports in Canada:


To discover colourful locations, updates and foliage reports in the United States please visit


Fall Foliage in Europe


“Leaf peeping” tourism is not so much spread in Europe, still there are many places where to experience the majestic colours of autumn. Of course, foliage can be watched in various regions, in parks and cities, in mountains and forests. Here we will offer a selection of the destinations with the variety of colours and unique landscapes.


For foliage locations in Aosta Valley (Italy) please visit


For foliage experience in parks, villas and gardens in Italy please visit (text in Italian)


For foliage locations in France please visit


For foliage photos in Scandinavia please visit


For foliage locations and photos in Scotland and England please visit


Bibliography & Links about Fall Foliage


  • Miti. Storie e immagini degli dei ed eroi dell'antichità. Lucia Impelluso. Milano, Mondadori Electa SpA, 2007.
  • Myths of the Norsemen. From the Eddas and Sagas, by H. A. Guerber. London, George G. Harrap & Company, 1909. Taken from
  • The Lore of the Forest. Copyright © Alexander Porteous 1928. First published in 1928 as Forest Folklore by George Allen & Unwin Ltd, London.
  • MastGeneralStore:
  • The Foliage Network:
  • Oneida Indian Nation:
  • First People of America and Canada:
  • Wikiquote:
  • Wikipedia:
  • Sacred Texts:
  • SuperCook Russia:
  • GreenFudge:
  • Aosta Valley portal:



Credits & Navigation


Top image: "On the Saco River" (Maine, USA), by Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), a German-American landscape painter.

Source: Albert Bierstadt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons





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