Oak tree leaves

Ode to a leaf

I am often amazed by leaves and their varied looks and feels; how they work; the role they play in the overall health of the plants, insects, fungi, and animals in our forests; and their ability to move us without even trying.

Their texture ranges across the spectrum from the roughness of elms to the waxy feel of beech.  They can be paper-thin to stout and tough to tear. Needles can have an angular structure like spruce or be very flat like balsam fir.

I often wonder what drives them to their varied shapes.  Simple shapes like circles (basswood) and triangles (cottonwood) and the thin lines of red pine needles.  Complex shapes like bur oak and compound leaves with their many leaflets on walnut. How they transform in color from nearly uniform green in the summer to the rainbow we are presented in the fall.  Red maples in particular put on a great show, as does the golden of the larch.

Their dancing in the wind can be a pleasure to experience.  The fluttering of aspen and the whispering of pines in a strong breeze, beckoning to come along.

Their beauty makes us forget about their true nature.  These small and fragile structures are the powerhouse of the tree, providing the energy for growth, strength and stamina.

And they play an important role for all other organisms in the forest.  Wildlife eat them and find shelter under their cover.  Insects consume them as well, and make homes out of them.  Fungi break them down into usable materials for other plants to consume.

So, take a moment to closely examine the wonders of leaves and their role in our lives.