Sustainability Sunday #89
Autumn, trees and science.
I studied Environmental Science at University, which included a hella lot about trees but recently, I have been reading a book about trees and never have I learned so much about trees as I have from this book. The Hidden Life of Trees is written by Peter Wohlleben who is a Forester from Germany and because of this, has essentially been experimenting and observing trees for around 30 years (which of course is nothing in the lifespan of a tree left to grow from seed to mother).
There’s been a lot of surprise, and concern around the summer in the UK this year, it’s been long and hot and something we could only have dreamed of in previous years. It’s not a good sign for the changing climate, we do know that. But it should lead us to the most beautiful Autumn. You see, the beauty of trees and their array of changing colours in Autumn, depends entirely upon the Spring and Summer weather conditions. In March, it was still snowing yet come end of April, I was having picnics in the park with my friends. The hot summer that ensued from April through to September, meant that leaves received plenty of sunshine which is what results in the glorious display of colours we see.
Have you ever wondered why, when we are wrapping up warm in fluffy jumpers and scarves, that trees are dropping all their leaves to live in a state of nakedness over the coldest months? This is because, despite all the rules we’re taught about competition in plants, trees care about each other (seriously, read Peter’s book it is mind-blowing). When the leaves drop, all the remaining nutrients in them are re-distributed into the soil where they can be used again either by the same tree in different parts of it’s structure or by other trees and plants in the surrounding area. The key substance that gets broken down and then re-absorbed is chlorophyll, which is what gives leaves that green colour and enables them to breathe. It’s also the break-down of chlorophyll (into pigments such as carotenoids – the same found in carrots for those real nerds among you) that is responsible for the orange and yellow colours in autumnal leaves.
Viewing the Autumnal foliage is an established tourist activity in the USA. True, many of us here love a stroll through the countryside on a cool Autumn day, but in America people will travel across the country to states like New England where the trees are particularly stunning, and these tourists even have a name: “leaf peepers.” Have you ever wanted to grow up to be something more?
If you fancy yourself a bit of a Leaf Peeper, or just enjoy a stroll through a beautiful winter garden, here’s a few places you can adventure to around the UK this season:
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