tongues of red, the greens and stems
of wondrous beasts–their
twisted necks and leprous bumps
a chic warning, do not eat!
A continuation that I actually began before my previous leaf article… (A timey-wimey moment.)
Today as I was driving I kept getting caught in these swirling storms of falling leaves.
(It’s interesting how much better colors look in nature. Yellow of road signs isn’t what I would consider a pretty color, but I saw a lot of leaves so close to it today that the signs were blending in. With the sun at just the right angle that color on trees is luminous.)
Several weekends ago a friend mentioned something about how leaves don’t just fall, but are forced off by trees. I can’t remember if the word she used was expelled or excreted, but either way it wasn’t the right word and left us all with some entertaining images.
It was one of those ‘sounds vaguely familiar’ things. So I had to check it out. (I never did figure out quite what word she’d been intending to use.)
Apparently trees shed their leaves here in the northern latitudes (and on the southern half of the globe in the southern latitudes) because if left to their own devices leaves would try to photosynthesize during any warm spell. Then the leaves would die when the water in them from photosynthesis froze as soon as the weather turned cold again.
Rather than risk the likelihood of permanent leaves dying in the execution of their duty, deciduous trees have evolved to cast off their leaves in the fall and live on the food produced during the warm months.
Shorter and cooler days cause deciduous trees to release a hormone that in turn causes new cells to grow where the leaf stem and branch meet.
These are called abscission cells. Their job is to create a thin line of cells that grows and pushes the leaf stem away from the branches. That way they are only tenuously connected and ready to fall at the next autumn gust.
Since on of those friends is an NPR fan I’m guessing this was probably her original source.
For ice tea I like to blend English breakfast, green tea, rooibos, peppermint and spearmint. With hot tea I tend more toward plain black teas. I was in the mood, so collected a tea treasury on etsy while nursing the last of my orange spice with Assam. (They changed the blend, I don’t like the new one as much. Grr.)
What’s interesting is that all tea proper-be it white, green, black or oolong comes from the same species of tropical/subtropical evergreen-Camellia sinensis. There are different varieties and subspecies, but for the most part the difference comes from how the plant is treated after it is picked. (And of course, what flavors and scents it is blended with.)
The rooibos and mints that I like to add to my ice tea are technically not teas at all. That’s why sometimes herbal teas are called tisanes or infusions to avoid confusion.
But still, such variety due to what seems like a minor thing compared to the whole *same plant* aspect kind of amazes me. (Especially given how much I adore some teas and loathe others.)
Though I suppose it’s like a grapes and wine thing. I don’t think we normally eat the same breeds of grapes that most wines come from…I’m not much of a drinker (or any sort of gourmand) foodies want to weigh in on this one?
The wondering led to: We’re always told that leaves change because the trees stop making chlorophyll and they stop making chlorophyll because winter is coming.
But how does the one connect to the other, and what are those other colors doing hiding in there in the first place?
It seems to be another of those more interesting and more complex than it sounds subjects!
Leaf cells contain organelles (diminutive for the word organ-a cell organ-it’s so much fun to say and I probably haven’t been able to use it in writing since college, so sorry for the gratuitous vocabulary) called chloroplasts.
Chloroplasts are the part of the cell that uses photosynthesis to make food for the tree. Photosynthesis is a process that uses the energy from light to turn carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and sugar. These sugars are what gives the tree the energy to go about living. (And incidentally us oxygen so we can do the same…)
Chlorophyll is the pigment that absorbs the sunlight, so it is critical for photosynthesis. In good weather this green pigment masks any other pigments.
Chlorophyll is not chemically stable, it requires warmth and sunlight. As the days get shorter and trees start blocking water to their leaves as they prepare to shed them, the pigment breaks down. This exposes the orange and yellow pigments-carotenoids and xanthophylls. (The pigments found in corn, carrots, bananas, buttercups and daffodils amongst others…noticing the color scheme?) Their spring and summer jobs are to protect the chlorophyll from breaking down and are only seen in the fall as the days grow shorter.
The reds and purple hues come from pigments called anthocyanins. (They’re what make the reds in cranberries and apples, the purple in plums and the blues in blueberries.) These pigments are manufactured by the trees in the fall. What’s interesting is that scientists aren’t sure why trees go through the effort of creating a new pigment so late in the season. It has something to do with the trees trying to save as much sugar as possible. They’ve observed that there seems to be a correlation between soil quality and color intensity. The less nutrients in the soil the richer the crimson and purple leaf color as the trees try to salvage as much from the leaves as they can before they fall.
Temperature is a huge influence on the crop of reds and purples. Let’s hope for warm sunny days and cool but not freezing nights!
(Sounds good to me anyway…)
On sunny days leaves are still producing sugars but the cool nights and closing veins as the leaves shut down prevent the glucose from leaving as easily and combine to produce the strongest anthocyanin concentrations.
Moisture is also has a large role to play in the colors of the season. Drought can delay the color change and dampen the colors when they do emerge. Every fall is a bit different, since you’re not going to have the same moisture and temperature variations from year to year. (Or pretty much ever.)
The browns are from wastes left in the leaves after food production has stopped.
Studies done in Europe and Japan have shown that trees are flowering earlier and holding onto their leaves longer. This seems to be linked to long term climate changes. While it sounds like a nice growth period for trees, there is a danger that some species could be killed off in their native habitats is the summer temperatures get too warm.
Sources and Further reading:
This science project just looks like fun, studying the pigments in leaves.
PBS article from last fall.
Nature article on the question of why leaves turn red.
A nice USDA Forest Service article.
Today I Found Out article.
(The title quote is from the 1995 movie of Sense and Sensibility, I just always liked it and this seemed like an excuse.)
It’s New England and late fall, that practically requires a mention of Robert Frost. So at risk of sounding terribly traditional, here is one of my favorite poems for the season.
My November Guest
My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
As beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.
Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.
The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.
Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.
(Robert Frost, A Boy’s Will, 1915)
I was both pleased and amused to find a like minded person when I went searching for pieces to assemble an etsy treasury on this poem. Someone else had gotten there first and come up with a marvelous collection of pieces.
For another moment of seasonal show-and-tell, I wanted to share a photographer that I’ve had the pleasure of watching for quite awhile. My favorite images are her fungi, she’s quite the connoisseur. But her Autumn Path seemed most appropriate to accompany Frost, wrong continent though it may be.
She takes wonderful bird and animal photographs that often brighten my day. Sometimes literally, she’s had a rash of gorgeously colored birds recently. Though the crabby owls, like this guy at the California Raptor Center will probably always be my favorites… And sometimes I get to learn something new about about unusual species when I ask possibly silly questions. (She’s also very patient.)
I’m a little bit of a mythology junkie, and a lot of a shiny junkie. Or maybe it should be the other way around…
Either way, I figured it’d be appropriate to cut my teeth here on my favorite season and share a taste of its art and mythology as well as its influence on my own projects.
I think most people know the basic story of Persephone; for some reason it’s always been one of those myths that just seems to strike a chord. I think I first heard it in elementary school at a play. Maybe it’s the whole explanation of natural cycles bit, or the sort of sadness/beauty/longing mix that seems just right for autumn.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti isn’t my favorite of the pre-raphaelites (I’m torn between Waterhouse and Millais) but there’s still something fascinating about his painting of Persephone. Interesting contrasts, and really nice ivy in the background!
A more modern approach appears in a piece by A.E. Stallings, one of my favorite poets. (Discovering her was possibly the only good thing to come out of a writing class I took in college.) She has a wonderful was of mixing the modern and the ancient into an elegant whole.
This caught me right away:
Persephone Writes a Letter to Her Mother
First—hell is not so far underground—
My hair gets tangled in the roots of trees
& I can just make out the crunch of footsteps,
The pop of acorns falling, or the chime
Of a shovel squaring a fresh grave or turning
Up the tulip bulbs for separation.
Day & night, creatures with no legs
Or too many, journey to hell and back.
Alas, the burrowing animals have dim eyesight.
They are useless for news of the upper world.
They say the light is “loud” (their figures of speech
All come from sound; their hearing is acute).
The dead are just as dull as you would imagine.
They evolve like the burrowing animals—losing their sight.
They may roam abroad sometimes—but just at night—
They can only tell me if there was a moon.
Again and again, moth-like, they are duped
By any beckoning flame—lamps and candles.
They come back startled & singed, sucking their fingers,
Happy the dirt is cool and dense and blind.
They are silly & grateful and don’t remember anything.
I have tried to tell them stories, but they cannot attend.
They pester you like children for the wrong details—
How long were his fingernails? Did she wear shoes?
How much did they eat for breakfast? What is snow?
And then they pay no attention to the answers.
My husband, bored with their babbling, neither listens nor speaks.
But here there is no fodder for small talk.
The weather is always the same. Nothing happens.
(Though at times I feel the trees, rocking in place
Like grief, clenching the dirt with tortuous toes.)
There is nothing to eat here but raw beets & turnips.
There is nothing to drink but mud-filtered rain.
Of course, no one goes hungry or toils, however many—
(The dead breed like the bulbs of daffodils—
Without sex or seed—all underground—
Yet no race has such increase. Worse than insects!)
I miss you and think about you often.
Please send flowers. I am forgetting them.
If I yank them down by the roots, they lose their petals
And smell of compost. Though I try to describe
Their color and fragrance, no one here believes me.
They think they are the same thing as mushrooms.
Yet no dog is so loyal as the dead,
Who have no wives or children and no lives,
No motives, secret or bare, to disobey.
Plus, my husband is a kind, kind master;
He asks nothing of us, nothing, nothing at all—
Thus fall changes to winter, winter to fall,
While we learn idleness, a difficult lesson.
He does not understand why I write letters.
He says that you will never get them. True—
Mulched-leaf paper sticks together, then rots;
No ink but blood, and it turns brown like the leaves.
He found my stash of letters, for I had hid it,
Thinking he’d be angry. But he never angers.
He took my hands in his hands, my shredded fingers
Which I have sliced for ink, thin paper cuts.
My effort is futile, he says, and doesn’t forbid it.
It was published in her book, Archaic Smile. I think it’s out of print now, but is well worth the hunt. I love my slightly beaten up copy dearly.
I get along well with the colors of fall, and so a lot of my jewelry (and to a lesser extent sewing-I’ve a great greens and red and russets quilt that I *will* finish someday…) ends up with a bit of a seasonal bias. There are just so many semi-precious gemstones with just the right textures and tones for autumn. Of course, rutilated quartz and garnet are amongst my favorites all year round.
And I don’t think anyone really dislikes tiger’s eye. The shimmer alone is winning even if you don’t count the richness in tone.
Still very much a trial and error type of project, but I’ve been trying to modify the tree of life pendant idea into a fall foliage style. This one has a mixture of garnet, citrine, and goldstone on copper.
Just because I was feeling brave, an old poem with my own take on Persephone. Don’t worry, these won’t show up often, if ever again.
I think of Persephone now,
as the night carries a cool caress.
I think of her
poised perfectly, hovering—
if one can do that in a stately manner—
on the edge of the world.
The Sun’s warmth on her back,
a last bruised rose of summer
biting her fingers desperately;
even as she crushes the first
of the amber leaves
under her marble heel.
Her mother’s voice calling,
honey-thick yet corvid,
fading in the distance.
In the melting dark
beyond the cold winds,
waits her near-silent husband.
He speaks only as the rocks,
slow and cold and judicious.
A rumbling echo.
Does she smile a moment—
feel the clinging heat
and the vise-like cold—
and bounce on her toes,
glad of the moment’s gift?