Saturday, October 29, 2011

Beech leaves

The woods on our property consist of a diverse mix of deciduous tree species. I've never attempted to do any kind of survey, but would like to some day. Until then, I cannot say with certainty what the "dominant" species is/are, but we have many specimens of large trees such as oak, hickory, maple, beech, and buckeye as well as a variety of understory trees such as sassafras, redbud, dogwood and paw paw. Trees occurring in smaller numbers are aspen, tulip tree and sycamore. Heavy winds a few weeks back pretty much wiped the branches clean of their dapper autumn-colored leaves, but there are a few lingerers. But even those hangers-on will be bare within a few weeks, save for most of the beeches and some of the oaks.

The beech trees always grab my attention, and a lot of this has to do with the fact that they encircle our house and their leaves are right at eye level from almost any window that you look out of. As fall marches into cooler days and nights, and frost and cold rains start to come into the picture, I attempt to be vigilant in watching their leaves because every year they catch me by surprise. One day they're green and then - POOF! - they've changed. And then a few days later they've changed again. As fall progresses into winter, the leaves hang on the beech trees, but they change in character. They become more and more paper-like. They go from brown to beige. Winter winds whip them ragged, but still they will hang on until the last possible moment in spring. Other tree species will be sprouting new, green growth, while last year's beech leaves will still be there, almost transparent now, clinging to a season that was over months ago.

Today I went out with my camera and attempted to capture the differing stages of change among our beech leaves. This is something that grabs my interest - the leaves on some beech trees seem to turn faster or sooner than others. I've tried to make loose correlations to the age or size of the tree, but have come up with nothing conclusive. At this point, there are very few green leaves left. Most are a nice yellow or orange, or a mottled combination of the two. Some are brown, and a few have even gone into what I call the "paper" stage - they are dry and rolled at the edges, already well on their way to their winter "look."

There is a term, I have learned, for dead leaves that cling into winter. It is marcescence. Okay, so there is a name for it, but no one is quite sure why it happens. The most common theory that I came across had to do with protection from browsing animals such as deer or moose - having these papery and likely unpalatable leaves at the end of the branches could save the tender buds from being eaten. But if that were true, wouldn't all trees employ that same strategy? So many questions, so many things still unknown.


ksdoolittle said...

When I first learned of marcescence, I remember reading that the leaves hang on to protect the new, emerging buds. Great shots! The beech is one of my all time favorites!~karen

Caroline said...

Nice, nice camera work!