Here in the Northeast, many of us experience a strong feeling of protest, an internal voice that shouts “No!” when the deciduous trees are about to lose their last leaves. Well, some leafy trees do keep their leaves until spring! There’s even a special word to describe this tenacious holding onto living plant material through the winter — marcescence.
For years, I didn’t appreciate the tan papery leaves on Beech trees that flutter throughout the winter because I assumed they were a sign that the trees were dead. One year, it dawned on me that the parched leaves appeared winter after winter on the same trees. They had to fall off at some point to allow for the new leaves, but when? I watched as they held on through heavy snowfall, frost, ice storms, and gusty winds. It was February, then March, then April… suddenly there were new green leaves; I had missed the transition!
It’s weird that I am happier about winter now that I know there is such a thing as marcescence. Even though the trees were there before, I didn’t appreciate how their leaves make a crinkly sound in the wind, glow when backlit by sunlight, and add color (believe me, even tan stands out) in the forest in winter.