Nature Notes from Common Ground
Week of April 12, 2021
You probably know that we call trees that drop their leaves in the fall deciduous. Trees that remain green year-round are called evergreen. What about trees whose dried out and wrinkled leaves remain attached to their branches all winter, even after they have lost their green color? This phenomenon is called marcescence.
The most abundant example of marcescence in West Rock are the American beech (Fagus grandifolia) trees scattered throughout the forest. They are easily identified in the winter and early spring because of their marcescent leaves. Some leaves fall to the forest floor and begin to decompose, but many remain on the beech tree branches. Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), Oaks (Quercus), and Hornbeams (Carpinus) also exhibit marcescence. Some trees are only marcescent early in their lives, while others remain so throughout.
How does marcescence help trees? Some ecologists believe that the crinkling dead leaves may deter deer and moose that might want to eat the newly formed buds of these trees in the spring. Others think that by slowing the dropping of the leaves, trees can control when the leaves decompose, making nutrients available when they are most needed - for example, in the spring and summer when the trees are growing new leaves and branches.
The next time you’re outside, see if you notice any trees displaying marcescent leaves on their branches. As the buds of these trees begin to open up and new leaves form on the branches, many of the remaining marcescent leaves will fall off, and the cycle begins again. Check out the video below to see Chris share some examples of this phenomenon.
For more information on marcescence, click here.
Nature activity of the week
Hike of the Week
Each week we share a family-friendly hike or outdoor adventure. Click here to visit Mendell's Folly in Bethany!
Chicks and Chickens!
About this series
In this time of virtual learning and social distancing, we seek to support teachers and families in getting outside in safe and healthy ways. We hope this series provides content and activities to help your students or your family engage in nature-based learning, whether you are learning in person or virtually.
Some of the funding we rely on to keep Nature Notes free comes from the Robert F. Schumann Foundation and The Claire C. Bennitt Watershed Fund, established by the South Central CT Regional Water Authority.